“We share Austria's position that there should not be a repeat of what happened along the Balkan route last autumn on the road from the Italian border northwards,” said Thomas de Maiziere after a meeting with his Austrian counterpart Wolfgang Sobotka.
“We have said we want to reduce the numbers of refugees sustainably, above all at the external borders, and a policy of simply waving people through would only spur more from outside the EU to come to Europe,” said the German interior minister.
“What is happening in Brenner depends above all on the Italians,” added de Maiziere, referring to the Austrian border pass with Italy which Vienna is looking at fencing off in order to halt mass arrivals of migrants and refugees.
De Maiziere's backing came a day after Italy angrily told Austria that it was “wasting money” on anti-migrant measures and that closing the border between the two countries would be “an enormous mistake”.
But Germany put the ball in Italy's court.
“Italy is aware of how serious the situation is, it knows that Italy must, should and will take action to ensure that Schengen remains open,” said de Maiziere, referring to Europe's passport-free zone.
“That means, what it is at the moment is above all a task for Italy,” he said.
More than 350,000 people, many of them fleeing conflict and poverty in countries like Syria, Iraq and Eritrea, have reached Italy by boat from Libya since the start of 2014, as Europe battles its biggest migration crisis post-World War II.
Wedged between the Italian and Balkan routes to northern Europe, Austria received 90,000 asylum requests last year, the second highest in per capita terms of any EU country.
Legislation approved on Wednesday by the Austrian parliament enables the government to respond to spikes in migrant arrivals by declaring a state of emergency which provides for asylum seekers to be turned away at border points.
Some 250 police have been deployed at the Brenner Pass, a major transport link between southern and northern Europe with an average of 2,500 lorries and 15,000 cars using it every day.