Domino effect of German border closure awaits crucial Vienna talks

Austrian Minister for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs Karin Kneissl, after the Ministerial Council Meeting of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. [Etienne Laurent / EPA]

The Austrian government remains cautious but warned there will be consequences if the German border is closed, ahead of a meeting with Interior Minister Horst Seehofer on Thursday (5 July) in Vienna.

The decision of the German government to close the border with Austria and establish centres on the border to process asylum requests “came by surprise”, Austrian Foreign Affairs Minister Karin Kneissl told reporters in the nation’s capital.

The Austrian minister claimed she did not know the details of the German plan, how it will be implemented or what would be the impact on the Austrian border.

But Austria’s reaction will be swift. “From the moment that a border becomes tight, Austria will have to take similar measures in the south”, said transport and infrastructure minister Norbert Hofer, a member of the far-right Freedom Party.

Germany’s decision might affect the border between Austria and Italy as well as the Brenner Pass, which marks the frontier between both countries. However, Kneissl admitted she has not contacted her Italian counterpart yet.

“In the next few days there will be talks with our friends in the north (Germany), in order to find out what the measures are,” Hofer said.

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A migrant policy deal struck by Chancellor Angela Merkel to save the German government drew scepticism on Tuesday (3 July) from her Social Democrat coalition partners, who said more talks and work were needed to make the disputed proposal fly.

Vienna talks

Seehofer will be in Vienna on Thursday to discuss this issue with his Austrian counterpart, Herbert Kickl, as well as Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. The outcome of that meeting could mark the future of the Schengen area in the short term, as closing the border might lead to a domino effect.

Hofer claimed that Berlin’s decision is an “emergency measure because the external border protection does not work”. Although irregular arrivals to Europe are falling, Vienna believes there is a crisis in the making, as migratory pressure is still there.

“For many years we have said that we have to protect the out borders of Schengen so we don’t need to protect the borders within the European Union,” the FPÖ man said. “We have to make any effort so that the external borders are protected and the countries along those borders cannot be left alone,” Hofer added.

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A new asylum policy for a new world

Kneissl claimed that, contrary to twenty years ago when you could apply for asylum in embassies in case of alleged persecution, now the only way is crossing the Mediterranean.

“The instruments that we have developed for asylum date from pre-globalisation,” she argued. “What we definitely feel is that the instruments that we developed don’t matches the needs of today,” the minister said.

“Instead of crossing the Mediterranean, let us move the authorities to the people, not the people to the authorities,” she suggested.

However, the external dimension of migration, not the reform of the Common European Asylum System, is on the top of the Austrian Presidency’s agenda, despite the call made by the presidents of the European Commission and Parliament, Jean-Claude Juncker and Antonio Tajani.

Kurz pledges to shield Schengen as border dispute unfolds

Austrian Prime Minister Sebastian Kurz prioritised the protection of the external borders during his country’s EU Presidency stint, in order to safeguard the Schengen area, as a recent deal between Germany’s conservative parties could lead to a resurrection of the bloc’s internal borders.

‘South Eastern Europe’

For the Austrian Presidency, working towards the enlargement of the EU to the Western Balkans is also on the agenda, which Kneissl likes to call “South Eastern Europe, to clearly state that it is part of Europe.”

“I would want to insist on the need for an EU perspective for these countries,” she said. Something Chancellor Sebastian Kurz also underlined before the Parliament on Tuesday (3 July).

“The European blueprint will only be completed when the Western Balkans belong to our community of nations,” Kurz highlighted in Strasbourg.

Kneissl said she is committed to following up on the achievements of the Bulgarian Presidency, and is already in contact with her colleagues in the Netherlands and France, concerning the opposition of both countries to open accession talks with Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

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