Italy, Austria seek to calm tensions over Brenner border controls

ROME Italy and Austria on Thursday played down tensions that flared after Austria said it might reintroduce border controls at the Alpine Brenner pass to keep migrants from coming from Italy.

A day after Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said Austria’s announced plans to build a fence at Brenner was “shamelessly against European rules”, Austria’s new Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka said he had come to Italy “to calm tempers”.

Both Italy and Austria are members of the European Union’s Schengen open-border zone, but free movement has been jeopardized by the reimposition of controls at some key crossings by countries affected by the migrant influx.

“There will be no wall,” Sobotka told reporters after meeting his counterpart Angelino Alfano. “If and only if it is necessary will we introduce more controls (at Brenner) by slowing traffic and trains … but circulation will be guaranteed.”

Any toughening of border controls at the Brenner Pass would slow traffic on an important route from Italy to Germany, Italy’s top trading partner.

Hundreds of thousands of migrants fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa have crossed the Mediterranean to Italy since 2014, and Austria has said Rome must stop them from traveling on toward northern Europe.

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