Austrian FM Kurz: Greece and Italy must not be left to defend EU borders unaided

All European Union countries must contribute toward the effort to defend Europe’s external borders, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said on Wednesday, in an exclusive interview with the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA).

“In my view, it is important to organise the protection of the EU’s external borders jointly. We cannot leave Greece and Italy on their own here but every country must contribute financially and with human personnel to protect the external borders together,” Kurz said.

He also raised concerns about excessive dependence on a “temperamental” Turkey, in the wake of Turkish threats to renege on the EU-Turkey agreement for refugee flows. Unless there was preparation in advance, Kurz warned, the consequences could be disastrous and he called for the urgent organisation of measures to protect external borders.

“I believe that Turkey is probably too unpredictable and, consequently, we should not rely on Turkey or we will be dangerously dependent on it,” he said.

Kurz also outlined his ideas on handling refugee flows, noting that migrants making their way to Europe must be stopped at the external borders, “which are often islands, like Lesvos and Lampedusa.”

“They must be cared for and then returned,” he said; refugee flows would only slow if Europe made it clear that those arriving in the EU illegally had no chance of staying, he clarified. “Only then will there be fewer people coming to Europe, only then can we stop the deaths in the Mediterranean, only then can we deprive traffickers of the foundations of their business,” he added.

“At the same time, we must extend on-site assistance and help these people in their countries of origin and this means enlisting all EU member-states. Greece and Italy must not be left to fend for themselves and Austria is willing to make a disproportionately high contribution, both in economic terms and in terms of human personnel,” Kurz said.

This could either be organised via Frontex or through a new agency that would be set up to handle the issue, he added, noting that it would involve thousands of police officers and military personnel, in order to set up a coast and border guard.

The Austrian minister said that Austria, along with Germany and Sweden, had been the countries that carried the greatest burden as a result of the refugee crisis, since they were the final destination of most refugees, whereas Italy and Greece had been mainly transit countries. He admitted, however, that Greece also had a significant burden to bear.

“Greece needs help in whatever concerns protection of the external borders and has also received financial support from the EU,” Kurz said, while also stressing the need for reforms leading to fiscal prudence, not just in Greece but throughout the EU.

Replying to criticism over the decision to close the “Balkan Corridor” to refugees, in which Austria played a leading role, Kurz said that this had “generally helped Greece, since in this way the flow of refugees became smaller.”

“Fewer people started on the road to Europe. Also, it cannot be in Greece’s interests to be a transit country for millions of refugees. Before the Balkan Corridor was closed, 15,000 people were arriving in Greece daily at a critical time. After it was closed, there were not even 1,000 a day. In other words, the closure of the Balkan Corridor had one consequence, the reduction of the flow itself,” he said.