BERLIN • The hardline interior ministers of Austria, Germany and Italy have formed an "axis of the willing" to combat illegal immigration, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said yesterday, escalating a Europe-wide row over the issue.
The announcement by Mr Kurz in Berlin after talks with German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer marks a shot across the bow of Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is trying to pull together a deal for EU cooperation on placing asylum seekers.
Mr Seehofer - locked in an open migration feud with Dr Merkel that is threatening the stability of her coalition government - said he and his far-right Austrian and Italian counterparts, Mr Herbert Kickl and Mr Matteo Salvini, had formed their alliance this week. He said their cooperation would extend to "issues of security and terrorism" but did not offer specifics on what it would entail. Mr Kurz, whose country assumes the EU's rotating presidency on July 1, said he welcomed the "good cooperation that we want to develop between Rome, Vienna and Berlin".
"I think it marks very sensible cooperation that will contribute to reducing illegal migration to Europe," he said. "We believe an axis of the willing is needed to fight illegal migration."
Ms Merkel has firmly rejected a plan put forward by Mr Seehofer to turn back at German borders any asylum seeker already registered in another EU country. She argues that her country should not go it alone while Europe searches for a common policy.
Mr Seehofer has won support from Mr Salvini, who on Monday flatly refused to allow a rescue vessel carrying hundreds of migrants to dock.