Three quarters of Austrians are in favour of increased border security. The alpine republic’s new interior minister is set to meet with South Tyrol’s governor, with this pertinent information in his back pocket. EURACTIV Germany reports.
The debate about upped security at the Brenner Pass has intensified over the last few weeks and Austria’s new interior minister Wolfgang Sobotka intends to make an immediate mark. His first trip in his new job is a visit to the Italian region of South Tyrol and a meeting with its governor, Arno Kompatscher.
Even before he has been officially sworn in, Sobotka wants to make security at the mountain pass a priority. He intends to bring Bolzano on board with the plan and put pressure on both Rome and Brussels. The issue is controversial, not just because the north-south route is a celebrated example of the free movement of goods and people; it is also a question of emotions and history.
The Austro-Hungarian county of Tyrol was partitioned in the wake of the First World War, when Italy was awarded Trentino and the southern part of the area, modern-day South Tyrol, under the secret Treaty of London. An agreement between Italy and Austria following the Second World War recognised the German minority and both Italian and German were made official languages.
However, tensions have remained in the area and a significant number of the region’s inhabitants still retain hopes of South Tyrol seceding from Italy and re-joining Austria.
Popular opinion in Austria has certainly swayed in favour of increased border security. A recently published survey by social sciences institute SWS found that 76% of Austrians support the government in their pursuit of stricter border controls. Only 20% disagreed with the policy. Three quarters of respondents also supported Vienna’s self-imposed quota on asylum seekers.
This is in stark contrast to the figures that were recorded when people were asked about the EU. Forty-six percent of respondents said that Brussels had not done enough, 29% said it had done just enough, 18% rated their efforts as “satisfactory” and only 3% judged the bloc’s approach to the refugee crisis to be “good”.
Austria’s national government did slightly better in the survey, with 31% ranking their work as “satisfactory”, 2% as “very good” and 19% as “good”. Just over a quarter (27%) said that Vienna was doing “enough” and 18% responded “not enough”.
The minister who kicked off the entire issue of border security, Johanna Mikl-Leitner, on Friday (22 April) officially left her post and returned to her home region. She will be sworn in as the deputy to Lower Austria governor Erwin Pröll, taking up the role that Sobotka vacated in the cabinet reshuffle. Both are members of the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP).
Mikl-Leitner is known for her hard-line when it comes to immigration and she is expected to be groomed to succeed Pröll as the region’s governor and to bring her hard-nosed attitude to her new office.
This year has already seen another significant change in Werner Faymann’s cabinet directly associated with refugee policy, with Hans Peter Doskozil sworn in as Minister for Defence in January. Doskozil recently justified Austria’s refugee policy by saying that it is countering the rise of right-wing parties such as the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ).