Wednesday 12 December 2018

Schengen under threat as Austria hits back at Merkel's migrant deal

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Interior Minister Horst Seehofer struck a migration deal. Photo: Getty Images
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Interior Minister Horst Seehofer struck a migration deal. Photo: Getty Images

Justin Huggler

The political crisis in Germany yesterday threatened to put the future of the European Union's border-free Schengen Area in doubt, as its neighbour Austria warned it was "ready to take steps to protect its borders" against migrants.

The Austrian government reacted furiously to a political deal by Angela Merkel's government to hold migrants at transit centres on its border with Germany, and said it was prepared to impose new controls on its own borders with Italy and Slovenia.

"If this is agreed in Berlin, we will be forced to take action to prevent harm to Austria and its people," Sebastian Kurz, the Austrian chancellor said.

Ms Merkel would have hoped she had put the crisis that threatened to bring down her government behind her when she hammered out the last-minute compromise with Horst Seehofer, her rebellious interior minister, on Monday night.

Instead she was yesterday facing the prospect she had warned against: that the political row in Berlin could cause any European consensus on migrants to unravel and threaten the future of the Schengen Area.

At a press conference with his coalition partners in Vienna, Mr Kurz spoke out against Ms Merkel's "Welcome Culture" towards migrants of 2015 and said the EU must take steps to protect its external borders against migrants.

"In the medium to long term we need a Europe without internal borders.

"But how we get there I cannot assess," he said.

Austria is ready to impose new controls but is waiting to see if Germany goes ahead with the proposed new measures on its border, Herbert Kickl, the Austrian interior minister said.

The deal Ms Merkel made with Mr Seehofer still has to be agreed by her main coalition partner, the Social Democrats (SPD).

Asylum

Under the deal, Germany will set up transit centres on its border with Austria where asylum seekers will be held while their cases are decided.

Those who are already registered in another EU country will be deported.

Mr Seehofer wanted to turn such migrants away immediately at the border, but Ms Merkel argued that would cause a crisis as other EU states refused to take them.

She has agreed bilateral deals with a number of countries, including Spain and Greece which are on the front line of migrant arrivals.

But Italy, the main transit route for migrants arriving at the German-Austrian border, has refused to take back migrants, and Austria fears it could be forced to deal with those turned back at the German border.

Ms Merkel has emerged from the row severely damaged. 'Spiegel' magazine yesterday described both her and Mr Seehofer as "barely tolerated by their own parties".

She was holding talks with her coalition partners on the new border measures last night, but the SPD could yet torpedo the deal. The party blocked a similar proposal for migrant processing centres on the border in 2015. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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