European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz on July 6 confirmed that the bloc is preparing to speed up the process of enhancing its border security as part of an effort to stymie the flow of illegal immigration into southern Europe.
The announcement that two bitter opponents – Kurz and Juncker – had found some common ground came after Brussels has been under fire for lacking a coherent strategy for the redistribution of migrants across the Member States once they’ve crossed the EU’s border
Under Kurz, Austria, which is now chairing the presidency of the EU Council, has regularly cited immigration, border protection, competitiveness, and the establishment of a digital single market as the main focus of their agenda while sitting on the rotating presidency.
Kurz and Juncker reportedly touched on the Multiannual Financial Framework for 2021-2027 and the next EU budget. But the focus of the talks inevitably returned to the migration issue, which prompted the Commission to say that it will put forward an ambitious plan to toughen the protection of the EU’s external borders by September. Juncker said the Commission would develop the plan after the anti-establishment ruling parties in Italy and Austria were supported by other EU leaders at a summit in Brussels in late June, who demanded stricter border controls, including the accelerated expansion of Frontex, the EU’s border protection service.
“We agreed today that in September the Commission would make a proposal on the protection of the external borders,” said Juncker. “Between now and 2027, we want to produce an additional 10,000 border guards. We are going to bring that forward to 2020, which means that in September of this year we will make proposals with that in mind.”
Kurz responded to Juncker’s statement by saying he would demand an immediate compromise on the issue of granting asylum to illegal migrants and indicated that he had little patience for the likely laborious process of reforming the EU’s Dublin Agreement – the regulation that determines which EU Member State is responsible for examining the application for asylum seekers.
European leaders who are sceptical of the EU’s policy towards migrants have been buoyed by a recent political spat between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Interior Minister Horst Seehofer over the issue of internal border controls within the Schengen Zone – a position that Kurz supports.
“The fact that Germany is now tackling this issue is now something which is basically welcome because we know if large countries get involved at the European level this can improve the overall dynamic,” said Kurz.
Despite the contentious tone over the migrant issue, Kurz and Juncker were able to find some common ground, with the latter saying, “The discussions prove that we are moving in the same direction,” as “the Austrian government has a Europe-friendly program”. The two appeared to be in step on the issues of security, defence, and the Western Balkans, as well as on innovation and competitiveness with an emphasis on the digital economy.
In a concerted effort to show solidarity with Kurz, Juncker said he agreed with the Austrian chancellor that the EU should be ready to “take on major issues” down the road, including confronting US President Donald J. Trump over tariffs that the mercurial US president slapped on the EU earlier this year. Juncker has vowed to stand up for Europe’s interests when dealing with an isolationist American administration and reiterated that he will be making Europe’s to the White House when he meets with Trump in the coming several days.