Austria Tightens Border Controls

Guards from at least 18 European nations will be stationed at Austria’s frontiers during the Euro 2008 soccer finals as the country temporarily reintroduces border controls in a bid to keep out soccer hooligans and illegal immigrants.

Austria is part of the Schengen zone in Europe, which allows passport-free travel between European Union members of the scheme. But the rules allow for restrictions to be re-imposed for special events.

Interior Minister Gunther Platter announced that about 2,000 Austrian police and 143 foreign police would carry out border checks between June 2 and July 1.

Euro 2008 is also being staged in neighbouring Switzerland, although the two countries have never ended passport checks at their frontier as Switzerland isn’t an EU member and therefore not part of the Schengen group of countries.

"We will conduct daily risk analysis and then determine when is the most critical time to conduct checks," police spokesman Werner Fasching said at a May 29 press conference in Vienna.

Up to 4.5 million fans are expected to attend the finals co-hosted by Austria and Switzerland, leading to one of the biggest security operations faced by the two Alpine states.

Austria will supply 54 guards to help staff the EU’s external borders including the Hungary-Serbia frontier. A total of 1,100 foreign police officers will work in Austria during the finals – 850 from Germany, whose handling of the 2006 World Cup was widely deemed a success.