Border checks between Italy and Austria 'inevitable', Hofer

Austrian gov't takes hardline stance; 'showdown' on Schengen

27 April, 12:39

    (by Patrizia Antonini).

    (ANSAmed) - BRUSSELS, APRIL 27 - Border checks at the Brenner Pass are inevitable, the head of Austria's far-right, anti-immigrant Freedom Party (FPO) Norbert Hofer has said.

    The FPO, which is pushing for tighter border control, won the first round of the country's presidential elections on Sunday.

    ''I am certainly not happy about it, but we don't have any other choice,'' he said.

    The government under Social Democrat Werner Faymann has however taken an even more hardline position on the issue. A press conference will be held at 1 PM on Wednesday at the border crossing between Italy and Austria to illustrate ''border control management'', with representatives from the police and traffic authorities. ''The closing of the Brenner Pass will severely damage the economy and transportation, as well as the EU since it is a symbol of European integration,'' warned Transport Minister Graziano Delrio. The European Commission is waiting and watching the situation. In recent days, some sources have said that they are ready to react including through an infringement procedure (the April package will be published on Wednesday), if the Austrian measures are ''unnecessary'' or ''disproportionate'' and thus violate the Schengen Code. Relations between Brussels and Vienna have been growing more complicated in this period, first after the announcement of daily refugee quotas and now with that of a barrier at the Brenner Pass. The hard-wrought EU-Turkey agreement will meanwhile be put to the test on May 4, when the EU executive will be giving its assessment on the implementation of the 72 criteria set to lift visa requirements for Turkish citizens. While Turkey threats to declare the agreement null and void, the European Commission continues to say simply that everyone must do their part but that if the agreement does not hold up, ''there will be many Idomenis'', said spokesperson Margaritis Schinas, referring to a Greek village on the Macedonian border where thousands of refugees have been stranded after the border closed. Berlin is applying a great deal of political pressure on the issue. Chancellor Angela Merkel returned to Turkey over the weekend and a high-level EU delegation is currently in the country. Greece - which was being assessed on Wednesday on its external border management - is the member state most at risk.

    By midnight, Athens will have to send a document to Brussels in which it explains how it has resolved the porousness of its borders, one of the last parts of a procedure to decide whether an extraordinary procedure as per Article 26 of the Schengen Code will be activated. The procedure enables one or more countries to reintroduce internal border controls within the area of unrestricted circulation for up to two years. With Germany and Vienna planning to use all possible means set down by the Schengen Code to maintain internal border control (on May 13 and 16, respectively), there is a high possibility that the European Commission will on May 12 decide to save the Schengen zone by isolating Greece - which has already happened in a de facto manner with the closing of the Western Balkan migrant route. However, if migrant flows in the central Mediterranean were to increase and France were to decide to follow in Austria's footsteps, Italy may also end up with serious problems.


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