The presidential frontrunner in Austrian elections said Tuesday that border controls at the Brenner Pass between Italy and Austria are “inevitable,” while also remarking that only one in five migrants entering Austria is a “real refugee.”
In the first round of Austria’s presidential vote Sunday, Norbert Hofer (pictured) of the rightwing Freedom party (FPÖ) beat the other candidates by a landslide, making Hofer the likely winner of a run-off ballot to be held against Green party’s Alexander Van der Bellen on May 22.
If elected, Hofer faces an escalating migrant crisis whose current epicenter is the fabled Brenner Pass through the Alps. While the role of president is largely ceremonial in Austria, Hofer has intimated that he would exercise a right to dissolve parliament before the 2018 elections.
Hofer has said that Austria must defend itself from an “EU debt and liability union,” while criticizing the unfettered entry of waves of “economic refugees” who “destroy the social system.”
Over the weekend, several hundred demonstrators, including some leftist politicians, gathered at the Brenner Pass to protest plans for tighter anti-migrant checks at the border. Austrian police had to resort to batons and pepper spray to repel the Italian marchers.
The protesters donned orange life jackets in a sign of solidarity with the thousands of African and Asian migrants who have drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean. They also carried a large banner with the slogan “People Over Borders.”
According to Hofer, the only way that temporary internal border controls could be suspended would be for the Schengen external borders to be secured. In other words, as long as migrants continue to freely cross the Mediterranean into countries like Italy and Greece, Austria will uphold its right to defend its borders.
On Monday, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said it is clear that ISIS is taking advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis. He also said European Union goals of open borders and free movement among member states “is in some ways in conflict with the responsibilities that each country has as a nation-state to protect the borders and securities of their nations and peoples.”
Norbert Hofer’s unexpected victory Sunday with an astonishing 36% of the vote was a result of both “anti-incumbency sentiment” and a growing concern over the waves of migrants entering the country. His populist, Euroskeptic FPÖ party has been the strongest in asserting the rights of Austria’s national sovereignty against what many see as a migratory invasion.
The runoff election was a turning point in the history of Austria. For the first time neither of the two major government parties, the SPÖ and ÖVP, finished in the two top.
Marine Le Pen, the president of France’s National Front party, was quick to congratulate Hofer, calling the victory a “magnificent outcome” to the election.
— Marine Le Pen (@MLP_officiel) April 24, 2016
Meanwhile, Italy’s Minister of Infrastructure and Transport Graziano Delrio attacked Hofer’s idea of closing the Brenner Pass.
“The closure of the Brenner would do serious damage to the economy and transportation, but it would also seriously damage the European Union, since the Brenner Pass is the symbol of European integration,” he said.
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