BOLZANO, Italy, April 15 – The mainly German-speaking province of Alto Adige, or South Tyrol, which became part of Italy after World War One, is now looking forward for controls at what many people still consider it as the “unjust border” separating it from Austria. Thus many people, especially those who are seeking a closer bond with Austrian Tyrol are used to crossing into Austria unchecked to shop or study, etc.
Nevertheless, today’s situation is different, taking into consideration the hundreds of thousands of migrants estimated to cross the Mediterranean to Italy from Africa in the coming months, and according to that Austria has stated that it will introduce border checks at the busy Brenner Pass if the northward flow of people requires it.
Alfred Aberer, the head of the chamber of commerce in Bolzano, the Italian province’s capital said; “We have to be realistic. When you see that they’re carrying out building work, they’re going to carry out controls”. Building facilities to manage crowds and inspect vehicles at Brenner, the busiest route through the Alps has started this week. However these controls if put into action, will most probably slow traffic on Italy’s main transport link to Germany. Worth noting that Germany is Italy’s top trading partner.
On the matter, these preparations were not received well by Rome, as it condemned these measures. On the other side, the European Commission has expressed concern. In the province itself, there is apprehension and much uncertainty, but little sense that it could become the next flashpoint in Europe’s migration crisis.
South Tyrol’s Governor Arno Kompatscher stated that it’s still early in all cases to say or expect how this whole scene will develop later. The scenario depends on whether Italy will allow migrants landing in the south travel towards Germany, which also depends on whether the EU can organize for them to be taken back to countries like Libya or be redistributed within the bloc.
Kompatscher tried his best to emphasize on how sensitive an issue the border is, and made it clear that the best is being prepared pertinent to the province’s ability, and also insisted that there must be a common European solution. “Brenner is of enormous political significance to us,” he said, adding at the news conference: “The Brenner pass is a symbol of Europe’s unification … and, for us especially, the reunification of the historic Tyrol region.”
Meanwhile few migrants are crossing into Italy mostly taking the train which passes by Brenner. The provincial government’s head of social affairs, Luca Critelli, and Kompatscher said the province could only accommodate a backlog of migrants in the hundreds.
The aforementioned repercussions of controls could be significant in regard of the Economic sector. The province of 500,000 people hosts around six million tourists a year, and Germans are the biggest group, according to a provincial trade group for hoteliers, HGV. And only a one percent drop in annual tourist arrivals would cost the industry $33.8 million to $39.5 million.
It is estimated that almost 10 million cars and two million trucks pass through Brenner each year. However, not everyone believes the measures will likely have severe consequences. Austria has promised to keep the disturbance of traffic to a minimum, and it might be trying to prod countries like Italy into taking action.
“Honestly, I think there’s a lot of sabre-rattling in this,” Thomas Baumgartner, the owner and chief executive of Fercam, a Bolzano-based logistics company, said at his company’s offices, despite having potentially much to lose. His firm, Italy’s biggest trucking company, makes roughly 200,000 deliveries by truck each year, half of which go through Brenner.
“I am confident Austria is doing this so that the EU secures the external border, to put pressure on the EU,” he said. Some, however, are less optimistic.
“For us, it would be a bit of a catastrophe,” said Arnold Huber, a goatherd selling cheese, yoghurt and sausages at a market in the old town of Bolzano, known in German as Bozen. “We need tourism here. If we don’t have tourism, there’s nothing.”