Austria’s neighbours fear more border controls

South Tyrol, one Austria's neighbours to voice its concerns, embodies the #HandsOffMySchengen spirit perfectly. [John Mason/Flickr]

While increased people-trafficking has been recorded in eastern Austria, increased border controls in the west, specifically at the Brenner Pass, continue to be mooted. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Although Hungarian authorities have made their zero-tolerance stance on migrants clear, more people are coming from that direction into Austria. Guided by smugglers, they enter Austria and Germany in minibuses and vans. This month, 24 traffickers and 520 refugees have been apprehended in Burgenland, the easternmost region of the alpine republic.

Its regional government is already considering the implementation of further protective measures. Defence minister Hans Peter Doskozil has defended Vienna’s harsh refugee policy by citing the rise of the right-wing nationalist Freedom Party (FPÖ). Doskozil believes this is the only way to counter the ascension of its leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, who has allegedly benefitted in the polls due to rising immigration.

Even Chancellor Faymann recommended this weekend that his German counterpart, Angela Merkel, consider issuing transit visas to refugees at the EU’s external borders.

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The possibility of even more border controls at the heart of Europe has provoked EU-wide discussion. The autonomous Italian province of South Tyrol, which shares a long border with Austria as well as a difficult history with its alpine neighbour, has voiced its concerns, with the South Tyrolean People’s Party warning that increased border controls would be a “bad signal”.

Similar worries can be heard in the province of Friuli Venezia Giulia, which borders the Austrian region of Carinthia. Debora Serracchiani, its president, said: “EU countries, which are economically based on the free movement of people and goods, cannot allow a reintroduction of border controls. Austria should be open to a dialogue.”

Furthermore, Italy’s representative in the Juncker Commission, Federica Mogherini, has appealed to Austria, asking the government to reconsider its position on refugee policy, which include the introduction of controls on its southern borders.

Vienna sought to counter and defend itself against such claims by calling on Italy to put a stop to the alleged “waving through” of immigrants into Austria. In an attempt to diffuse the situation, outgoing President Heinz Fischer wrote an open letter to La Repubblica, in which he referred to the rumours of a closure of the Brenner crossing as “false and misleading”.

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Closing the so-called Balkan route means refugees are now looking for alternative ways to reach Germany. The affected countries now want to work together better in order to coordinate their respective policies. reports.

Vienna has tried to emphasise over the last few months that despite the refugee crisis and its introduction of quotas the principles of free movement of persons and goods should be safeguarded. Given the lack of “efficient protection of Europe’s external borders” Austria has felt compelled to take action.

Minister-President of Bavaria, Horst Seehofer, has lauded Austria’s direction on refugee policy, a matter on which he has frequently disagreed with Angela Merkel, and has praised Vienna’s tack as being in line with “Bavarian interests”.

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