CC / Ailura
CC / Ailura

It seems like a case of unintended consequences. Under enormous pressure from the public and simply the numbers themselves, Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner announced February 18 a fixed upper limit of 37,500 asylum applicants this year, 80 a day, until the limit is reached.

A major new clearing center has been opened in Spielfeld, in southern Styria, and fences are going up to support the orderly processing at another 12 border crossings.

The most disputed: The Brenner Pass on the Alpine border between Austria and Italy.  For more than a half a century, the Austrian Federal State of Tyrol and the German-speaking Italian region of South Tyrol have tried, step by step, to overcome the artificial separation created at the political bargaining table after the Great War – a decision Woodrow Wilson is said to have regretted – and again after World War II.  A boundary on the map need not be one in daily life, Tyroleans on both sides feel, and since 2001 have been part of a cross-border joint entity, the Euroregion Tyrol-South Tyrol-Trentino.

The fact that Austria should have chosen precisely this place to put up a fence and reintroduce controls is stirring up deep emotions on both sides.

“The Brenner Pass is no normal border,” warned Regional Governor Gunther Platter. “It has very high symbolic value.”

And a fence is giving entirely the wrong message.