On Thursday Italy’s Minister for Internal Affairs, Angelino Alfano, and his Austrian counterpart, Wolfgang Sobotka met in Rome to play down tensions, after Austria suggested reintroducing border controls at the Brenner Pass to prevent migrants from arriving through Italy.
Recently, Matteo Renzi, Italian Prime Minister defined Austria’s plans of erecting a fence at Brenner as “shamelessly against EU rules.”
Both the Italian Government and the European Union have harshly criticised Austria, since free movement might be jeopardised by the re-imposition of controls at the Brenner Pass, a key crossings for the EU, as well as an essential route from Italy to Germany, Italy’s top trading partner.
Austria’s new Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka said then he had come to Italy “to calm tempers”.
“There will be no wall,” Sobotka was quoted as saying by Reuters, “If and only if it is necessary will we introduce more controls by slowing traffic and trains … but circulation will be guaranteed.”
Migrants Scapegoated to Win Austria’s Election
After receiving 90,000 asylum claims last year, Austria has adopted an increasingly strict position towards new migrants’ influx.
According to several observers, this position held by the Austrian Government might be partially due to the results of the presidential elections on 24 April.
The first round was won by Norbert Hofer, candidate from the far-right party FPÖ (Freedom Party of Austria), known for his harsh stances on immigration.
Thus, the Government led by the Socialist Prime Minister, Werner Feymann, may wish to accelerate its anti-immigration policies, so to stem the growth of the FPÖ in anticipation of a runoff.
Austria is No Country for Migrants
Last Wednesday, the Austrian Parliament adopted a law providing for a potential state of emergency in case influxes of migrants were not manageable through standard measures. The law suppresses almost entirely the right to asylum, since it also limits any successful asylum claim to three years.
In case it were applied, it would block refugees at border or reject them without even the possibility for them to submit an application.
Read “Austria Shuts its Door to Migrants“, for more information on Austria’s new law on migrants.
Austria also delineated plans to build a 370 metre-long fence at the Brenner Pass, which is the busiest route through the Alps for heavy goods vehicles. However, Sobotka said on Thursday it was not a barrier and it would be used only to “channel” people.
“Preparations are under way in case there is an extraordinary surge of migrants,” Sobotka told, according to Alfano.
In recent days, during a meeting between representatives of Austria, Germany and Italy at the Brenner Pass, Austria police asked to conduct inspections in trains and other means of transport already inside the Italian territory. Nevertheless, the proposal was refused by Italy.
For more information on Austria’s plan to erect a fence at the Brenner Pass, read “Austria Builds Barriers: Brenner Pass Closed to Migrants“.