Austrian Chancellor Kurz warns against Turkey’s ‘blackmail’

Turkey cannot be allowed to use migrants to pressure the European Union, Austria’s conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said in an interview with Greek daily Kathimerini on Sunday.

“We must not allow Turkey to blackmail us,” Kurz said, “as it has repeatedly tried.”

Kurz lauded Greece’s efforts to defend the EU’s external borders and said FRONTEX, the EU’s border control agency, “played a crucial role,” with the EU sending “a clear message to Turkey.”

Austria sent help for Greece to defend the Evros river border crossing in March to emphasise this message of support, Kurz said.

“The EU’s response against Turkey must always be clear,” the chancellor said. “We need to show unity, not only on the issue of immigration but also on controversial issues.”

Following a deadly airstrike in Syria on Feb. 27, in which 33 Turkish soldiers were killed, Turkey announced that it would no longer prevent migrants, refugees and asylum seekers from attempting to cross into the European Union. Shortly after, the Turkish authorities began actively helping migrants amass at the border, including running buses to the border region.

Greek and Turkish forces spent most of March trying to push migrants back and forth over their common border, until the coronavirus pandemic forced nationwide measures for both countries.

Austria hopes to stop “violations of sovereign rights of EU members from Turkey,” Kurz said in response to Kathimerini’s question about Turkey’s possible moves during the summer.

“Our position on international law issues is immovable” in matters pertaining to EU members, including Greece and Cyprus, Kurz said.

Turkey’s relationship with Mediterranean neighbours Greece and Cyprus have remained strained over recent years, mainly over the country’s efforts to explore for hydrocarbons in waters internationally recognised as being Greek and Cypriot.

Kurz said Austria was in favour of “close cooperation among EU countries” but not a European army, while stressing the need to “ensure stability on the (EU’s) southern and eastern borders.”

Several EU member states have announced their support for Greece, as well as the EU in general.

It is important “to send clear messages that we are a united mass, and that it will  be impossible for anyone to try and divide us,” Kurz said.

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