Germany gets support on migration from Austria
There may be disagreement within the German government on how to fight illegal migration. But Angela Merkel seems to have found a potentially valuable ally in her Austrian counterpart, Sebastian Kurz.
Sebastian Kurz may well feel like a guest who turns up to dinner only to find that the host couple have gotten into a fight and aren't speaking to one another. The Austrian chancellor is in Germany for meetings with his German counterpart, Angela Merkel, and German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, who are engaged in a major row over refugee policy. Seehofer would like Germany to begin turning back would-be asylum seekers at its borders, while Merkel insists on finding a European solution to illegal migration that would involve enhanced controls along the EU's external borders.
"The issue has the potential to seriously damage Europe," Merkel told reporters as she welcomed Kurz to Berlin, characterizing the protection of the EU's external borders as "crucial."
Austria plays a key role in this issue. Firstly, Germany's border with its southern neighbor would likely be the one most affected by Seehofer's idea. And secondly, Austria assumes the rotating presidency of the EU Council in July and has vowed to make the issue of migration central to its six-month tenure.
"We've consciously chosen to focus on the topic of security," Kurz said, saying Vienna wanted to see "more cooperation in Europe."
European asylum not for everyone
Amidst the domestic German squabbling, Kurz has offered Merkel some welcome support. The 31-year-old Austrian chancellor is often considered more stringently conservative compared to the centrist veteran Merkel, but on the migration issue, they largely see eye to eye.
Merkel was visibly pleased when Kurz told reporters he favored more personnel, better funding and an expanded mandate for the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, Frontex, even if the Austrian chancellor's language is more restrictive than her own.
"Not everyone in the world who is persecuted can find a better life in Europe, and specifically central Europe," Kurz said, adding that his aim was to "stop people from making their way through Europe to apply for asylum in Austria, Germany or Sweden."
Strikingly, it was Kurz to whom reporters directed their initial questions. And he walked a tightrope that saw him underscore his common line with Merkel, while refraining from directly rebuffing Seehofer.
"I'm not getting involved in this internal German debate," Kurz said. "Austria is interested in stopping the flow of illegal migrants. A strong European solution can only consist of a strengthening of our external borders."