VIENNA (Reuters) - Germany and Austria said on Thursday they will hold talks with Italy next week on how to jointly “shut” the migration route across the Mediterranean from Africa into Europe, but also said they could act against Rome if it did not cooperate.
After a meeting with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, Germany’s Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said his government’s plans for new immigration measures at their shared border would not make Austria responsible for people arriving there who had already sought asylum in another European Union country.
“We agreed ... that next week there will be a meeting of the German, Austrian and Italian interior ministers with the goal of taking measures to shut the Mediterranean route into Europe, to make sure that illegal immigration to Europe on this route is stopped,” Kurz told a joint news conference.
Seehofer said the meeting would happen in the run-up to a meeting of European interior ministers in the Austrian city of Innsbruck on Thursday and Friday of next week.
Seehofer’s Christian Social Union (CSU) has been pressuring German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) to take tougher measures on immigration or face the end of the new coalition government.
The two sides have agreed on a plan to hold migrants seeking to enter Germany from Austria in transit centers from where those who have sought asylum elsewhere in the EU will be sent back to that country. That plan must still be approved by the other coalition member, the Social Democrats.
Kurz, an immigration hard-liner who governs in coalition with the far right and is close to Seehofer’s CSU, said the two sides agreed Germany’s plans at the border would not harm Austria and that they would instead work together on stemming illegal immigration.
Merkel is holding talks with countries including Italy and Greece - where the lion’s share of new arrivals first land in the EU - on deals to take back migrants who first registered there before reaching Germany.
“If the talks with Greece and Italy fail, we will have to think again about measures,” Seehofer said.
Kurz - whose country’s border with Italy includes the Brenner pass, an important north-south transport link - was more explicit about what might happen if a deal with Italy was not reached.
“Then Germany as well as Austria will of course have to take measures that in practice lead to the implementation of what should be European law,” he said. He did not elaborate on the possible measures.
Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg