Austria gives skeptical response to German migrant deal
BERLIN (AP) — Austria responded skeptically Tuesday to a deal proposed in neighboring Germany to end an internal government crisis over migration, demanding details and warning Berlin it wouldn’t participate in any arrangement that goes against its own interests.
In a compromise Monday night to end a dispute that had ballooned into a threat to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s fourth government, Merkel’s party and its Bavarian conservative ally called for “transit centers” on the German-Austrian border.
The idea is that migrants who already registered in another European Union country would be sent back from the centers under as-yet unexecuted agreements with other European governments.
Austria is important because the German deal states that when another EU country won’t accept someone with a pending asylum application, Germany still would reject them at the border “on the basis of an agreement” with Vienna.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, whose right-wing government takes a hard line on migration, said German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer planned to be in Vienna on Thursday to discuss what Germany wants. Kurz sounded distinctly unenthusiastic Tuesday.
“Our big aim is to reduce illegal migration,” Kurz, whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency, said. “So we have sympathy in principle for all ideas that go in this direction, but of course, not at the expense of Austria and its population.”
Kurz said the Austrian government was “prepared for all scenarios” including, if necessary, “prepared to respond to German national measures by taking national measures at our borders, particularly our southern borders.”
Austria’s southern neighbors are Italy, where many migrants first land in Europe, and Slovenia. Seehofer is scheduled to meet Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini on July 11, Salvini’s ministry said Tuesday.
Austrian Interior Minister Herbert Kickl’s view of the border compromise Germany’s Merkel and Seehofer described also was not encouraging.
“This agreement (with Austria) does not yet exist and, to be honest, it is very, very difficult for me to imagine how this agreement is supposed to come about,” Kickl said.
Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and its conservative ally, Seehofer’s Christian Social Union, govern Germany in a coalition with the center-left Social Democrats, who have yet to sign on to the deal.
The Social Democrats’ leader, Andrea Nahles, said the deal contains “uncovered checks,” stressing that there must be an agreement with Austria or with Italy. Her party also is mulling whether to accept the planned transit centers.
Germany has conducted limited identification checks on its border with Austria since 2015, an exception the European Union granted to Germany and other countries under the rules of Europe’s passport-free travel area. Monday’s deal, which comes as the number of migrants arriving is much lower than in 2015-16, doesn’t change that state of affairs.
Merkel and Seehofer argued for weeks over the latter’s proposal to turn back some migrants at the German border unilaterally. Merkel insisted on seeking agreements with other countries, keen to prevent a cascade of one-sided decisions that could further fray European unity.
It’s unclear how many migrants would be affected by the new centers. Germany’s GdP police union gave the deal a skeptical response as well.
Merkel’s conservative bloc “is selling a symbolic policy as a solution to refugee policy at the border,” the union’s deputy leader, Joerg Radek, told the Funke newspaper group.
Radek noted that Germany has borders with other countries besides Austria and said refusing migrants entry at one crossing would only lead them to try their luck elsewhere.