Vienna's controversial closed border policy

Austria has begun construction work at the Brenner Pass, where it plans to reintroduce border controls and erect a barrier to stop refugees coming from Italy. After closing the Balkan Route the country is taking further measures to seal itself off. While some commentators strongly criticise Vienna, others voice understanding for its approach.

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Corriere del Ticino (CH) /

Listen to Helmut Kohl!

In the prologue to the Hungarian edition of his latest book former German chancellor Helmut Kohl criticises Europe's refugee policy. In principle he holds the same sensible views as Vienna, Corriere del Ticino comments:

“It's one thing for the Visegrád states to break ranks and defy Jean-Claude Juncker's orders. … But it's quite another when a major Western democracy like Austria joins the group of rebels. … And that's not all. In recent weeks political figures who form part of a moderate front that can hardly be accused of having far-right sympathies have increasingly voiced criticism of the open-borders policy advocated - at least initially - by Angela Merkel's Germany. … Former Chancellor Helmut Kohl has publicly declared that 'everything must be done to prevent the arrival of a new wave of refugees in Europe'. … Brussels should take note of that.”

Die Presse (AT) /

Blown fuses in Vienna

Vienna is taking action without considering the consequences, the centre-right daily Die Presse believes:

“Instead of immediately talking about sending in the army and building new fences and checkpoints at the Brenner Pass, a moment's pause for thought would have done a world of good: 'Just what are we doing here?' Austria is 'securing' a border with a long and difficult past. The government is sending a harsh political signal. ... Everyone would have understood logistic preparation for a potential migration wave. But the loudly proclaimed, rushed fortification of the Brenner Pass with fences and soldiers only shows that with those in charge the fuses that protect against heavy-handed actionism have blown.”

Euractiv (GB) /

Brenner Pass could become another Idomeni

The European media platform Euractiv warns that Austria's new policy could result in the formation of huge refugee camps south of the Brenner Pass and the resulting diplomatic tensions:

“Should Austria introduce controls at all its border crossings with Italy, migrants could start camping on Italy’s northern border. This could lead to a situation similar to that in Idomeni in northern Greece, where thousands of people wait for the opportunity to cross into Macedonia. Some migrants may try to reach France, which in turn would probably reintroduce controls at its border with Italy. ... And Rome is likely to react virulently to the new immigration measures, seeing them as an attempt by neighbouring countries to isolate Italy. Consequently, German and EU authorities will probably work to de-escalate bilateral tensions in the coming weeks.”

Il Giornale (IT) /

Walls of unbearable hypocrisy

Now it's the established parties, and the social democratic ones to boot, who are putting up walls in Europe, the national-conservative daily Il Giornale writes mockingly:

“The politicians have reacted to this crisis in two ways: some said the problem existed and had to be solved, while others acted as if there were no problem. The former were denounced as populists, the latter were seen as good or naïve. … Anyone with an ounce of common sense must now realise that those politicians who ignored the consequences of migration were stupid. Stupid and unlucky. … Populists frequently - and sadly - turn out to be Cassandras. The others are simply hypocrites, with clean masks and dirty consciences. Like that smug social democrat who is having the double barbed-wire barrier put up at Brenner Pass, Werner Fayman. The very same man who closed Austria's border with Slovenia.”

Kaleva (FI) /

Europe now the only hope

The flood of refugees may shift its route but it won't be stemmed, the liberal daily Kaleva argues:

“With the start of spring in Europe the predictions are coming true: the flow of migrants crossing the Mediterranean to travel north is increasing, especially since the route through Turkey to Europe has been all but blocked. ... If the reporting on the refugee camp in Idomeni on the Greek-Macedonian border dies down, Europeans may soon see refugees stranded on the border between Italy and Austria instead. ... This may be just the start of a huge upheaval. The wealthy continent has become a life buoy for people with no prospects for the future. There can be no going back to the way things were in Europe.”

Wiener Zeitung (AT) /

Unilateral action will have dire consequences

Vienna's rigid border policy will backfire on it, the liberal Wiener Zeitung fears:

“A growing number of people in the EU are baffled by this Austrian brand of deterrence. … The government is sadly forgetting the consequences for tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. By tomorrow Austria will have positioned itself in the nationalist corner in the search (without alternatives) for a European solution to the wave of refugees. And by the day after tomorrow, once the refugee issue has been resolved because the weapons have fallen silent in the crisis regions, Europe will turn its attention to other issues. But many will remember that Austria went its own way on this crucial issue. And it's questionable that this will increase the willingness to oblige the country on already existing problems. So if Austria closes the Brenner Pass now that will just be the start of its problems.”

Tages-Anzeiger (CH) /

Vienna trying to score points with hard line

The Austrian government has de facto abolished the right of asylum but the strategy of taking a hard line to impress the voters won't work out, the centre-left daily Tages-Anzeiger comments:

“Fences on state borders, summary proceedings, immediate deportations and no possibility to appeal. No, we're not talking about Hungary here, which has already implemented all these measures. We're talking about our neighbour Austria, which is now taking the Hungarian approach: sealing borders and annulling the right of asylum. … [The grand coalition] is adopting the language and demands of the far-right [FPÖ]. The voters aren't thanking the government for it. In the latest polls the SPÖ and ÖVP, with 22 and 24 percent respectively, were still a long way off from a joint majority. At 32 percent the FPÖ, the original proponent of their ruthless policy, is the undisputed number one party.”

Il Sole 24 Ore (IT) /

Europe's Orbánisation on the advance

Hungary's closed borders have set a trend, the liberal business daily Il Sole 24 Ore writes attacking the border patrols on the Brenner Pass:

“Austrian President Heinz Fischer likes to refer to the barrier between Austria and Italy as 'border management'. As if hiding behind semantic hypocrisy in this way could save face for a country that already has plenty of skeletons in its historical closet. And yet for some weeks now Austria has had no qualms about denying the European spirit and the European creed so it can retreat behind the walls of its happy prosperity. Its indivisible prosperity. When [Hungarian Prime Minister] Viktor Orbán sealed off the border with Serbia last September to keep the refugees out there was talk of disgrace and scandal. But in Austria the advancing 'Orbánisation' of Europe has found a passionate ally and follower.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

Vienna turning back the wheels of history

Vienna seems to care little about the South Tyroleans who will be cut off from the Tyroleans in Austria through the reintroduction of border controls at the Brenner Pass, the daily paper Corriere della Sera complains:

“Not only will this be a wall between north and south, between two parts of Europe, between Italy and Austria. It will also divide the small Tyrolean world. Because the erection of a new wall will cast the South Tyroleans back decades, who had perceived Schengen and the lifting of all borders to their homeland as a liberation. Old wounds may be torn open once more. … In decades of negotiations thanks mainly to the efforts of the Italians but also of the South Tyroleans at least some of those old wounds were able to heal. Europe did the rest, until the Brenner Pass became an almost intangible border. Walls, bars and barbed wire are now turning back the wheels of history.”