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Austria responds to German migration deal

July 3, 2018

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has warned that Germany's new migration deal could force the Alpine country to impose stronger border checks on Italy and Slovenia. The deal ended a bitter German government crisis.

Sebastian Kurz
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/T. Roge

Austria's conservative chancellor on Tuesday said that Germany's debate over how to tackle irregular migration underlined the importance of strengthening the European Union's external border.

"Securing the external border is the basis for securing internal mobility [in the EU]," Sebastian Kurz said in a speech to the European Parliament. Austria, he added, would work towards that goal as part of its six-month EU presidency, which began on Sunday.

Read more: Austria holds border exercises in response to Germany

Earlier, Kurz said that a migration deal that ended a bitter dispute between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her interior minister, Horst Seehofer, would force Austria to "protect" its southern border.

"Should this agreement become the German government's position, we see that as prompting us to take action to prevent negative consequences for Austria and its population," he said in a joint statement with his far-right vice chancellor, Heinz-Christian Strache, and interior minister, Herbert Kickl.

"The [Austrian] government is therefore prepared in particular to take measures for the protection of our southern border," Kurz said without elaborating. Austria shares its southern border with Italy and Slovenia.

Read more: Austria brings hard-line refugee policy to EU

Merkel-Seehofer deal

Thousands of migrants seeking to enter Germany have passed through Austria in recent years, and many entered Austria through Slovenia and Italy.

On Monday, Merkel agreed to her interior minister's demand to set up transit centers on the Austrian border to ensure that asylum seekers already registered elsewhere in the EU are swiftly deported to that country.

The agreement solved a government crisis that saw Seehofer, who leads Bavaria's Christian Social Union (CSU), threaten to resign if Merkel, who heads the sister-party Christian Democratic Union (CDU), did not accept his proposals to secure Germany's border.

Read more: Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz: The EU's new power broker?

Austria tests border defense

'Legally compliant'

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker appeared optimistic about the German deal, which he described as being an "agreement of two parties" rather than one at a federal government level. "I have not studied it in detail but at first glance — and I have asked the legal services to look at it — it seems to me to be legally compliant," he told reporters in Strasbourg.

Austrian fears

But the deal could cause tensions with Austria, which fears that migrants could be held up on its territory if the German plan, which still requires approval from the CDU/CSU's coalition partner, the Social Democrats (SPD), goes ahead.

Analysts have warned that other EU countries may mimic Austria's reaction by beefing up their borders to ensure migrants are stopped before entering their territory. The resulting domino effect would raise questions about the future of the EU's border-control-free Schengen zone and could harm cross-border trade.

Seehofer, for his part, said that he had called Kurz on Tuesday morning, and would like to travel to Vienna "as soon as possible" to discuss a "sensible solution" with Austria's chancellor.

amp/msh (AFP, dpa, AP)

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