In April 2019, the Austrian government has announced that it would extend the checks at the borders with Hungary and Slovenia. Until then, the extraordinary border controls were expected to be in effect only until May 11, 2019, but the new resolution may mean strong internal borders until as late as October 2019.
This is relevant news for European politics as both Hungary and Slovenia are Schengen members. This means that both the Austria-Hungary border and the Austria-Slovenia border are normally considered soft borders.
The implementation of the Schengen zone also dictates that there is no need for citizens of member nations to obtain a visa in order to cross internal borders and visit other Schengen countries. That means that Hungarian and Slovenian nationals should be able to cross the Austrian border without having to apply for an Austrian visa.
However, recent events in Europe brought several countries to set up temporary borders and security checks within the Schengen area. This doesn’t mean that Schengen citizens are now required to apply for visas for Europe — rather, it’s seen as a way for European authorities to have better control over non-EU nationals moving across Europe.
Why Has Austria Set Up a Border with Hungary and Slovenia?
Several factors have convinced European leaders to implement internal borders. Among them are the recent rise in the number of terrorist events registered in European cities and the difficulties Europe is facing in handling the migration flow coming from Africa and the Middle East through Southern Europe.
In fact, the Austrian Interior Minister Herbert Kickl sent a letter to the European Commission explaining that the great number of migrants trying to cross the Austrian border illegally is what convinced the government to extend the border checks. The letter goes on to explain that due to the recent developments in Greece and Turkey, the Austrian government doesn’t see how the situation could change for the better in the short term.
However, the Austrian government also recognized that checks at the internal border are considered an extraordinary measure and should be avoided whenever possible:
“Austria is well aware that internal border controls are to be used only as a last resort, but sees no other possibility in the present situation after observation and analysis of the development of the situation on the affected internal border sections […] The desire to return in perspective to an area without internal border controls is expressly supported”, wrote the Minister.
Just in April this year, the European Parliament voted in favor of changes to the Schengen Border Code. The Code allows for temporary checks at internal borders in case of a serious threat to public order and security — this is the law that allowed Austria to introduce border controls at its internal borders. The proposed amendments will limit the time these temporary measures can be kept in place — from 6 to 2 months and from 2 years to 1 as maximum extension.
In order for extensions to be applied, Schengen countries will need to provide detailed risk assessments. Rapporteur Tanja Fajon from the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats encouraged the Commission to put an end to “Illegal and illegitimate controls at internal Schengen borders” and take legal action against them in Court.
So far, none of these changes affected the European and Austrian visa policies. Citizens of the EEA and Switzerland can freely travel to Austria and the rest of the Schengen countries without a visa, while most third-country nationals will need to apply for an Austrian visa in order to visit or live in the country. The type of visa required for Austria will depend on their nationality and travel purpose.
What Countries Have Strengthened Their Internal Borders?
Recently, several European countries have reintroduced and strengthened their Schengen borders for different reasons. Starting from 2015, the following countries have implemented border checks:
In all the above cases, border controls were introduced due to the migration crisis.
France also implemented stronger border controls due to the continuous terrorist threat recognized by its government in the country.