VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria could start checking traffic to Germany as part of stepped-up border controls in the second half of this year when it holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, its far-right interior minister said.
Austria, Germany and some other European countries suspended the Schengen system of open-border, passport-free travel in 2015 after over 1 million refugees and migrants, mainly from the Middle East, flooded into Europe.
Last week, Germany said it would keep controls at its border with Austria for six more months to ensure security and deal with migrant flows. Those controls have at times caused long queues on the Austrian side of the border near Salzburg but Austria has so far avoided introducing its own regular checks there.
However, Interior Minister Herbert Kickl floated a change in policy in a newspaper interview on Thursday, saying public safety was worth any disruptions to business and tourism along one of the main north-south transit routes in Europe.
“In the interest of protecting our own people it is logical that we will step up checks,” Kickl, from the far-right Freedom Party that is junior partner to Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s conservatives, told the Salzburger Nachrichten daily.
“From July 1 it could happen that we control (travel) in the direction of Germany,” Kickl said.
He acknowledged that Austria’s business and tourism sectors would not be happy with increased checks. “But security is at the very top of people’s priorities and for this some are surely willing to sacrifice.”
It would “of course” be necessary to continue to suspend Schengen in much of Europe, Kickl said.
“We have communicated clearly in a letter to the European Commission that we reserve the right to control every border in Austria, even those that were not controlled before.”
The landlocked Alpine republic maintains that until the EU’s external borders can be firmly secured, it should be able to impose controls at its own borders within the Schengen area.
Austria flanks eight countries: the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland and Liechstenstein. It has kept systematic checks at the main entry point from Hungary, which borders on non-EU territory, but most other crossings remain free of regular controls.
Reporting by Michael Shields; editing by Francois Murphy and Mark Heinrich