Europe is divided over migrants, with Germany leading the campaign to protect the continent’s image as a caring place for those in need of international protection while its neighbor and most reliable ally leads the charge against Chancellor Angela Merkel’s so-called “open-door” refugee policy.
Austria has rarely challenged Germany on any issue in the past, but it is doing so over Europe’s refugee crisis. It imposed strict limits on the number of refugees entering the country and mobilized the Balkan states to seal off their borders so as to block the flow of refugees and migrants to the core of the continent.
Austria also signaled its opposition to the tentative migrant deportation deal reached earlier in the week between EU (read Germany) and Turkey. The reason behind this challenge was not so much the deal itself as the other partner involved in the deal, namely Turkey.
Austria’s interior minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said she was “extremely critical” of the agreement, citing the situation with freedom of speech in Turkey.
“I am extremely critical. I am seriously wondering whether we are taking ourselves and our values seriously or if we are throwing them overboard,” she told ORF public radio on Thursday.
The minister said it was incredible how Turkey ended up at the negotiation table after Turkish forces stormed the headquarters of a daily newspaper Zaman.
“I think it’s questionable if Turkey takes control of a newspaper critical of the government and then turns up here [in Brussels] three days later and puts a wish list on the table,” she said.
Clearly, the minister’s criticism of the deal had Germany as the target.
Indeed, Austria’s stance on refugees has been described as a diplomatic coup against its mighty neighbor.
Austria feels that the Chancellor’s refuge policy is unfair both to Europe and to refugees and migrants themselves. Europe cannot accommodate so many people and it is actually cruel spreading false hopes that refugees can find a new life in Europe, thereby creating new waves of refugees and migrants.
Chancellor Merkel, on the other hand, believes she is on the right track with efforts to distribute refugees within Europe.
“There is no point in believing that I can solve the problem through the unilateral closure of borders,” said the German Chancellor recently while speaking on public television.
Merkel has said that dealing with the migration crisis has been a “difficult path,” but that it concerned Germany’s reputation in the world: “This is a very important phase in our history,” she said.
“There is so much violence and hardship on our doorstep,” Merkel said. “What’s right for Germany in the long term? There, I think it is to keep Europe together and to show humanity.”
In the meantime, Austria will continue challenging Germany’s refugee policy, causing further friction among EU member states and putting to great risk the entire European integration project.