We agree that we must avoid a hard Brexit
Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz
Sebastian Kurz, Austria’s Chancellor, and Giuseppe Conte, Italy’s Prime Minister, met at the Palazzo Chigi in Rome to discuss a raft of issues prior to the European Council meeting, at which UK Prime Minister Theresa May will try and sell her Chequers blueprint for a future working relationship with the bloc.
Afterwards Mr Kurz – who earlier this week joined forces with German opposite number Angela Merkel to deliver a similar message – said during their joint press conference: “We agree that we must avoid a hard Brexit.
“We think all 27 EU countries must find a unified position and an agreement with Great Britain.
“We will listen to Prime Minister May and then we will evaluate what to do.»
The pair also trained their sights on securing reforms of key EU operational protocols which relate to migrants, such as Frontex, the agency tasked with border control of the European Schengen Area, and Operation Sophia, established to crack down on boats smuggling people into Europe from North Africa and Syria.
Mr Kurz said: “We want to strengthen Frontex and extend the mandate.
«This is important not only for Italy, but also for Austria and the whole EU.”
Addressing Italy’s approach to the issue of migration, Mr Kurz added: “Austria is very happy about how Italy has reduced the influx of migrants, but now we have to find a European solution and still reduce the influx.
“The direction is right, the June European summit was positive».
At the June summit leaders had discussed “strengthening external borders, collaborating with African countries, and ruining the business model of traffickers”, while tomorrow’s meeting would be a chance to move further in this direction, he said.
Mr Conte said the EU needed to invest more in North African, adding: “There are many countries with which to strengthen cooperation, transit and origin, to protect the rights of migrants.”
The two leaders also discussed ways of defusing a simmering row over plans to offer German-speakers in the Tyrol region of Italy Austrian passports.
Mr Conte said: «I had the opportunity to tell Kurz that Italy has a clear position about the passports and dual citizenship.”
However, insisting Italy “had no reason to get nervous”, Mr Kurz replied: «Many South Tyrolians want the dual passport that is in the government program and we have always made it clear that we will act in concert with Rome.”
Stressing no law was yet in the pipeline, he added: «As soon as it is available, we will begin the process of confrontation with Rome, but it is not the moment yet.”
The region of South Tyrol is in Italy, although 69 percent of the population speaks German.
Significant minorities speak other Germanic languages including Ladin and Cimbrian.
Tomorrow’s summit is a chance for Mrs May to meet face to face with leaders from the 27 other member states of the European Union.
None of them are allowed to negotiate on the subject of Brexit, as this remains the prerogative of the European Union.
However, the gathering is seen as a good opportunity to make her case with less than six months before the UK quits the EU on March 29, 2019.