In preparation for an expected increase in refugee influx to Europe, as seen in Summer last year, Austria began building a border checkpoint and road barrier at the Brenner pass; a historic passage through the Alps between Italy and Austria.

brenner map

Location of the Brenner Pass on the Austria-Italy border.

While construction of the border checks is a far cry from the border fences seen throughout the Balkans, comments from the Austrian Defence Minister indicate that the nation is prepared to close the border with Italy if refugee movement begins to permeate through to Austria. The Austrian Interior Minister, Johanna Mikl-Leitner, similarly stated: “Italy must do more to process migrants”, and failure to do so would force the Austrian government to take drastic measures.

“Whoever wants to close the Brenner has learned nothing from history, neither Austrian nor European history. Fences inside Europe are the symbols of a failed collaboration. If all countries implemented and applied the jointly agreed EU agreement, there [would be] no need for border fortifications inside the EU.”

– Othmar Karas
Austrian MEP

Fearing that Austrian border restrictions will create an Italian version of the humanitarian crisis seen in Greece (particularly at Idomeni), the Italian Interior and Foreign Ministers wrote a joint letter to the EU Migration Commissioner, stating the Austrian actions “did not appear to be based on facts”, with “no data showing an alleged increase in the migrant flow from Italy”.

Natasha Bertaud, spokesperson for the EU Commission, expressed the Commission’s concern that Austrian action could potentially be against terms of the Schengen agreement.

“If these plans should materialize then we will have to look at them very seriously. The Brenner pass is essential for freedom of movement within the European Union. The Commission is very concerned.”

– Natasha Bertaud
Spokesperson for the EC