Austria and several states from Central and Eastern Europe intend to collaborate more closely to keep refugees out. In the future, military personnel could be deployed to help guard the EU's external borders.
Austria has benefited from the closing of the Balkan route for refugees, Defense Minister Hans-Peter Doskozil said at a meeting of the Central European Defence Cooperation (CEDC) countries in Vienna on Friday. The defense ministers of Austria, Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Serbia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Montenegro attended the meeting.
The ministers quickly reached agreement on a basic concept of a mixed civil police and military mission that could act swiftly and flexibly at the EU's external borders in order to support Frontex. "Everyone present is prepared and willing to work on proposals for a common European solution," Doskozil said, adding that no country should be left to fend for itself as refugees arrive: "If a nation asks for support, we want make a joint effort to help."
The resolution outlining this common approach to border control will also be submitted at a meeting of EU defense ministers in Luxembourg. "It is only as a second step that we will look at the actual nature of this civil-military mission and which country will send how many troops where," Doskozil said. "Now our aim is to find a common European position with a focus on border security, registrations and deportations."
On Thursday, Austria's government announced a tightening of existing asylum laws. Doskozil and Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said the continued arrival of refugees could endanger "public order and internal security." Therefore, Austria could apply restrictions on asylum eligibility: "We will not accept any applications for asylum unless we have to due to certain criteria such as Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights," Mikl-Leitner announced. The ECHR protects the private and family life of individuals against interference by public authorities and regulates family reunions.
Others eligible to make asylum claims include people who, after being turned away from neighboring transit countries, would face threats to their safety or even death if returned to their nations of origin. In all other cases, refugees are to be returned to the country from which they entered Austria.
Policy of rigor
Vedran Dzihic, a political analyst from Vienna, is no fan of the closed-door approach. "This is going to develop into the policy of rigor which we're witnessing now," he said. "On this issue, the western Balkan states can rely on Austria's support, as long as the practical implementation of blockading the western Balkan route is at stake."
Dzihic said the military should not be deployed. "The images of the border crossings, for example from Idomeni, are very disturbing, unsettling and brutal, even without a military mission," he said. "At any rate, Europe's friendly face is completely absent there." In the current situation, Austria and several other states intend to make preparations - including military ones - to ensure that the western Balkan route remain closed. "The states of the region will comply," he said. "In return, they will ask, as before, for formal support on their way into the EU, and, informally, demand support for the respective governments and their political course."
Austrian officials intend to stick to the tightened course. Thus far, refugees have been able to apply for asylum not only at the border, but also at every police station across Austria. In the future, this will only be possible in purpose-built registration centers along the border, where refugees may be held for up to 120 hours while their applications are checked. For the country's media, "Fortress Austria" has already come into being. Defense Minister Doskozil also plans to tighten border controls. His message to Germany: "Where we conduct border controls, there'll be no more waving through."