The Tempting Trap of Fortress Europe

Written by | Monday, July 25th, 2016

Stefan Lehne (Carnegie Europe)

Even those EU Member States that have initially been most accommodating to the influx of refugees now agree on the principle of Fortress Europe and the transfer of responsibility for migrants to third countries. Rather than strengthening the Union’s legitimacy, this move – much like the increase in national populism – will only bring about tensions among individual countries. It would be therefore better if accountable political leaders made greater joint efforts to manage the migration crisis and thus showed greater responsibility when facing the rise of nationalism. What are the causes and consequences of such a rise of nationalism?

When the crisis broke out, Angela Merkel’s “welcoming” policy was prevailing. This approach also resonated in Sweden. The refugees have, however, gradually become a decisive element of the policy of fear, and for example, in France, Germany and Central European countries, voices against the refugees have been on the rise. Fear can sometimes be a driving force, which was demonstrated for example in the context of the economic crisis when deep concerns emerged about the stability of the Eurozone. This helped overcome the differences among those richer states that were paying for the weaker ones. In the case of the migration crisis, fear is, however, also a force that undermines the integrity of the EU. It forces the elites of the Member States to focus on the national level, which undermines solidarity and raises doubts over the future of the Schengen system. As a result of this situation, some states have begun to markedly reduce the number of granted asylums for migrants and closing their borders.

In March 2016, EU countries agreed to reduce the number of migrants based on the agreement with Turkey. It is very positive that the positions of the member countries on these issues have become closer. On the other hand, there is a danger that the EU will move towards a policy of exclusion, which could turn against it in the future. This is because Fortress Europe cannot work very well. First, unlike Australia, European continent is not isolated and migrants will continue trying to get here only with the help of illegal traffickers. Second, if vessels with refugees were returned on the sea, many lives would be lost. Third, transferring responsibility onto the surrounding countries, which include also the so-called failed states, may cause disruption and further instability in the region. Fortress Europe would therefore only result in more trouble.

The EU should realize that the migration crisis will continue. Rather than fortifying ourselves from the perceived dangers posed by migration, we should offer migrants legal channels in the form of humanitarian visas, provision of assistance to transit countries or the creation of such conditions for asylum seekers that would facilitate a path to work and education. Last, but not the least, it is also necessary to improve the EU’s foreign, immigration and integration policies.

(The study can be downloaded here:

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