German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has defended internal border checks, even though they disrupt border-free travel inside the EU’s Schengen zone, as Austria and Germany call for more Tunisia-style deals to curb irregular migration.
Pressure from irregular migration has risen sharply for both countries since 2022. While there have been fewer asylum applications in Austria this year, numbers remain high in Germany. Illegal crossings into the country are up by a third compared to the same period last year.
“In the face of the numbers, which we all know, [border controls] are currently indispensable,” Chancellor Scholz told reporters on Friday (18 August) in between meetings with his Austrian counterpart, Karl Nehammer, in Salzburg.
He argued that occasional deviations from the Schengen system would remain necessary as long as there was no comprehensive regime in place to curb irregular migration.
Germany recently extended stationary border controls at the border to Austria. While Austria opposes this, it continues to conduct its own controls of arrivals from Slovenia and Hungary. Both countries have extended the checks since 2015 despite their classification as a temporary exception from Schengen rules.
Hopes rest on asylum reform and deals
Scholz’s hopes rest on the EU’s planned reform of its common asylum rules, which is currently being negotiated. National governments agreed on a common position in June that features mandatory distribution of asylum applicants among all EU countries for the first time as well as the processing of asylum claims at the external border.
“That we have agreed on a joint position in the Council, which will lead to a new solidarity mechanism, marks great progress regarding the question of asylum migration,” Scholz said.
Both Nehammer and Scholz argued in favour of more deals with third countries, which they hope will accelerate expulsions of asylum applicants whose claims have been rejected.
The EU recently struck an agreement with Tunisia whereby the North African country would step up its migration control efforts in exchange for financial support.
“People will only trust in the state and the rule of law if the state manages to implement the law. Such [third-country] collaborations are the only way to do so,” Nehammer said as he praised the Tunisia deal while also pointing to Austria’s bilateral agreements with Serbia and Morocco.
While not always in sync on the details, the two governments appear to be united in their determination to bring down irregular migration. The matter is politically important for both as they face rising support for far-right parties.
Expectations are also low regarding progress on Romania’s and Bulgaria’s accession to the Schengen system, which is currently being blocked by Austria.
While Scholz stressed his support for the two countries to join Schengen, he remained guarded about their prospects as he pointed out that “some countries” still had “questions”, dampening expectations about a swift end to the impasse.
Nehammer underlined Austria’s concerns when he spoke of Bulgaria’s “long border with Turkey”, which he described as “an incredibly big challenge” that the country “had to face on its own so far”.
The two chancellors were due to continue talks after the joint press conference. Aside from migration and border controls, they are also expected to discuss security policy, including the war in Ukraine and energy security.
[Edited by Benjamin Fox]
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