Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi on Wednesday sharply criticized Austria's warnings that it may reintroduce border checks at the Brenner Pass frontier if migrant arrivals from Italy were to surge rapidly.
Renzi's remarks came on the eve of a Rome meeting with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker that was expected to touch upon the Brenner issue, part of a wider crisis of the passport-free Schengen area.
"What we have seen from the other side of the Brenner is comparable to a pure propaganda exercise," Renzi said in parliament, renewing suggestions that hard talk from Austria's centrist government was influenced by domestic politics considerations.
Austria is in the middle of a presidential election. In a first round last month, far-right opposition candidate Norbert Hofer came top, while ruling parties suffered humiliating defeats. A run-off between Hofer and Green Party man Alexander Van der Bellen is due on May 22.
Renzi said it was "dangerous" to court fears about migration, because "paradoxically, playing with fear may strengthen those who are better at stirring the ghosts and phantoms of the past," and urged Vienna to instead consider Italy's proposals to limit migration from Africa.
"The closure of the Brenner is little more than a provocation pertaining to the electoral campaign debate in Austria," the Italian leader insisted, adding that he expected "immediate" action from the European Union if Vienna were to make any concrete move.