VIENNA — The interior ministers of Austria and Germany said Tuesday that the EU must link efforts to control migration and improve security by establishing functioning outer borders and improving information exchange channels among its 28 members over terror threats.
They spoke to reporters during a break in consultations among themselves and colleagues from Europe's three other German-speaking countries — Switzerland, Luxembourg and Liechtenstein — on what they portrayed as the two major threats to European security.
"A Europe without internal borders can exist only when a European outer border" functions to control those entering the EU, said Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner. Citing figures of 5,000 radicals in Europe, she said the EU needed "systematic border controls ... where EU citizens first and foremost are the ones controlled."
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere also focused on the need for all EU nations to work together to reduce the threat of new terror attacks. For that, he said, national concerns about privacy of citizens must in some cases be rethought in favor of a focus on the free exchange of information over possible suspects planning to strike European targets.
"We have valuable data," he said. "But the fact is that the information in these separate data sources can be strung together only in a very difficult process." He called for a system of "integrated identification management over travel, migration and security in Europe."
The European Union began sending back migrants Monday under an agreement with Turkey. De Maiziere described the arrangement, which also allows controlled entry to the EU for those with good chances of asylum, as good but cautioned it was too early to deliver a final verdict.
At the same time, he and Mikl-Leitner said they could envisage a similar agreement with Libya and North African countries, even while cautioning that the security situation in those nations made reaching such deals more challenging.
The meeting was held amid preparations by Austria to impose strict controls on the joint border with Italy, and strengthen security along the border with Hungary after playing a main role in shutting down the West Balkan route from Greece into prosperous EU nations further north.
Mikl-Leitner said those moves were necessary because about 300,000 migrants could try and reach Italy from North African countries this year and more than 1 million more through Eastern Balkan countries as they seek alternate passage into the EU.
She said the controls would likely be imposed by early June, once Austria's parliament passes the necessary laws.