ZURICH (Reuters) - Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner, the face of Austria’s increasingly tough policy on migrants, is to become deputy governor of Lower Austria province, switching roles with fellow conservative Wolfgang Sobotka, Austrian media said on Saturday.
Mikl-Leitner, a member of the People’s Party in its broad ruling coalition with the Social Democrats, cracked down on an uncontrolled influx of migrants last year as an initial public outpouring of sympathy for those fleeing war and poverty faded.
She and fellow conservatives led the push for tighter border restrictions, and she coordinated a cascade of similar measures introduced by Balkan countries to the south that effectively shut down the main migrant route into Europe from Greece.
Mikl-Leitner was especially critical of Germany, Austria’s neighbor to the north, after it restricted the flow of migrants onto its territory at the end of last year, triggering a backlog in the small Alpine republic.
She has also overseen preparations for tighter controls at Austria’s Brenner Pass crossing with Italy, a vital north-south transport link, in case of an upsurge of migrants arriving there as Mediterranean crossings from North Africa pick up.
Mikl-Leitner has, however, increasingly shared the spotlight on migrant policy with new Defense Minister, Hans Peter Doskozil, a member of the co-governing Social Democrats who has at times adopted an harder line than Mikl-Leitner.
“It is no secret that the interior minister’s heart is pulling her towards Lower Austria,” a spokesman for Mikl-Leitner said, declining to comment further.
Sobotka’s appointment as interior minister is not expected to change Austria’s migrant policy. Mikl-Leitner will be groomed to succeed the province’s current governor Erwin Proell, the Tiroler Tageszeitung daily reported.
Reporting by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi, Francois Murphy and Kirsti Knolle; Editing by Mark Heinrich