Thursday

21st Jan 2021

Austria in border disputes with Slovenia and Bavaria

  • Austrian soldiers steer refugees trough Spielfeld border crossing with Slovenia last weekend (Photo: Eszter Zalan)

Austria threatened on Tuesday (27 October) to erect "technical barriers" at its border with Slovenia, and has been accused of waving migrants on to Germany's Bavaria region, which itself threatened to close its border with Austria.

Austrian interior minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner visited Spielfeld, the village where thousands of migrants have been entering Austria from Slovenia recently.

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She said the government would take "special building measures" to strengthen the border.

A government paper leaked in Austrian media later on Tuesday mentioned "solid, technical barriers several kilometers on the left and right of the border crossing".

"The point is to provide a controlled approach," the document added.

"The situation here is especially dynamic," Mikl-Leitner explained in Spielfeld. We've had between 3,000 and 8,000 people crossing the border [each day]. But we also need to prepare ourselves for 12,000."

'Orderly entry'

Since Hungary closed its border with Croatia on 16 September, migrants have changed route and now go through Slovenia towards Austria with the ultimate goal of reaching Germany.

Slovenian authorities say that 86,500 people have arrived in the country of 2 million inhabitants in the last ten days. On Tuesday, 14,500 were still in Slovenia while the others have presumably moved on to Austria.

Also on Tuesday, Slovenia received the first of the 400 border guard officers from other European countries promised at a extraordinary meeting in Brussels on Sunday. Frontex reinforcements are also expected on the Slovenia-Croatia border.

Austria's main goal, Mikl-Leitner said on Austrian TV Tuesday, is "to guarantee an orderly entry in our country".

The minister also criticised the migration policy of German chancellor Angela Merkel. "Signals [to migrants] have effects and we are feeling the effects," she said.

But criticism towards Austria came from Germany.

Austria's behaviour "is harming neighbourly relations," Bavaria's prime minister Horst Seehofer said in an interview to the Passauer Neue Presse.

"You cannot and may not behave like this with each other," he said, accusing Austria of waving migrants on to Bavaria.

15,000 asylum seekers arrived from Austria during the weekend, the Bavarian interior ministry said Monday, while complaining about the lack of information and coordination from the Austrian side.

'That's a joke'

The Bavarian police spokesman was quoted by the AFP news agency as saying that on Tuesday, Austria informed Bavarian authorities that nine buses carrying asylum seekers were on their way, when in fact there were 22 buses.

Austrian police responded to Bavaria's accusation by criticising the region's decision to limit border crossing to 50 people per hour.

"Usually we don't comment on political statements, but the fact is that if Austria receives 11,000 people in Spielfeld on a daily basis, Bavaria cannot say that it will just process up to 50 people an hour at its border. That's a joke," the Austrian police spokesman said

Bavarian leader Seehofer threatened to close Bavaria's border with Austria and gave the chancellor an ultimatum.

"It's the Chancellor's job to speak with Austria," he told the Passauer Neue Presse.

"If I'm not successful [in getting Merkel to limit the flow from Austria] then we will have to consider what options for action we have," he said.

In September, Seehofer, who is also the head of CSU, the Bavarian branch of Merkel's christian-democrat party, had threatened to take the government to the Constitutional court over its migration policy.

The war of words and border closure threats between Austria, Germany and Slovenia follow a summit in Brussels on Sunday, where the three countries, among others, pledged to "discourage the movement of refugees or migrants to the border of another country".

Eleven countries and the European Commission nominated contact points to ensure a daily dialogue and coordination. They will hold a first video conference on Thursday (29 October).

Speaking in the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday, EU Council president Donald Tusk warned that the current situation "has the potential to change the European Union we have built."

"It has the potential to create tectonic changes in the European political landscape, and these are not changes for the better," he said.

Balkan migrant route plan full of caveats

The success of the action plan agreed by EU and Balkan leaders on Sunday will depend on funding, member state cooperation and migrants' good will. None of them are guaranteed yet.

Slovenia and Croatia reignite border dispute

Croatia said it would not apply a ruling to be delivered by the international arbitration court on Thursday. Slovenia appeals to the EU to pressure its neighbour.

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