An angry Italy summoned Austria’s ambassador after the government in Vienna announced it was ready to re-introduce border controls and deploy troops and armored vehicles along the border to block any migrant influx out of Italy. Austrian Defence Minister Hans Peter Doskozil told Kronen Zeitung daily that troops could go to the Brenner Pass and that four Pandur armoured personnel carriers had been sent to the Tyrol region with 750 troops were on standby.
“We need to prepare for the migration development in Italy, and I expect very promptly that border controls will have to be activated and assistance requested,” Hans Peter Doskozil told the online edition of the Krone daily, adding that a military deployment at the busy Alpine pass would be “indispensable if the influx into Italy [across the Mediterranean] does not diminish”. While Austria has border checks with Hungary and Slovenia, elsewhere – such as on the border with Italy – it adheres to the EU open borders system.
Doskozil explained that “these are not battle tanks. These are armored vehicles without weapons which could block roads. These were already used during the refugee crisis 201/16 at the Spielfeld border crossing [with Slovenia],” just in case Italy got the impression that its northern neighbor was preparing to invade.
The border controls will include the Alpine Brenner pass, which forms the border between Austria and Italy, one of the main mountain passes in the eastern Alps. There isn’t a strict time plan for the step-up in border security, but, according to Doskozil’s spokesman, “we see how the situation in Italy is becoming more acute and we have to be prepared to avoid a situation comparable to summer 2015” according to Reuters.
Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said that Vienna is prepared to “protect” the frontier with Italy “if necessary,” as he spoke with the Austria Press Agency. Later Italy’s foreign ministry said it had summoned Austrian Ambassador Rene Pollitzer “following the Austrian government’s statement about deploying troops to the Brenner (pass)”.
The latest turmoil inside Europe’s customs union comes two years after Germany admitted over a million mostly Syrian migrants, as part of Angela Merkel’s “Open Door” (since shut) welcome, and just days after Italy’s interior minister demanded other EU nations “step up” and relieve Italy of the sudden flood of inbound migrants.
The Italian governor of South Tyrol, Arno Kompatscher, sought to defuse tensions. According to BBC, he said Austria had issued similar warnings about the border previously, and the situation there remained “quiet and stable”. Austria was gearing up for a general election in October, Mr Kompatscher noted. The anti-immigration Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) is expected to poll strongly.