European Union as “Fortress Europe”?

It seems in relation to the ‘Fortress Europe’ argument that there are contradictory signs in terms of empirical developments.


1. What is your opinion: Is the EU the “Fortress Europe” in terms of asylum legislation, or not and why?

2. Would you say that in the future Europe should expect a bigger migration pressure and if yes are we ready to cope with it, are the European societies ready to cope with it? (we see some worrying sings in Greece with Golden Dawn, etc.)


Christian KaunertSenior Lecturer in International Relations & Politics, University of Dundee

1. Myself and my colleague Dr Sarah Leonard (both University of Dundee) are currently publishing a book on ‘Refugees, Security, and the European Union’ ( London: Routledge, 2013).The main aim of this book is to analyse the extent and the modalities of the securitization of asylum-seekers and refugees in the European Union (EU). There is a commonly held view in the existing academic literature that migrants and asylum-seekers have been securitized in the EU, that is, have been socially constructed as security threats. The proposed book puts forward a more nuanced argument by analytically distinguishing the asylum policy of the EU from its policies on migrants and border controls on the basis of the literature on ‘venue-shopping’ and policy venues. It also makes a distinction between the EU asylum policy (which is understood, in line with EU official documents, as referring to the provisions concerning asylum systems within the EU, such as the Dublin Regulation or the ‘Qualification’ Directive) and the EU’s policy towards asylum-seekers and refugees (which includes the EU asylum policy, but is broader as it also encompasses measures adopted in other policy areas that have a significant impact on asylum-seekers and refugees, such as border controls in particular).

The book argues that the development of the EU asylum policy, far from ‘securitizing’ asylum-seekers and refugees, has actually led to the strengthening and codification of several rights for these two categories of persons. However, so continues the argument, the securitization of irregular migration had led to a significant strengthening of border controls at the EU external borders, which, in turn, has made it more difficult for asylum-seekers and refugees to access the protection granted by asylum systems in the EU. Thus, security concerns have had mainly an indirect impact on the development of the EU’s policy towards asylum-seekers and refugees. Asylum-seekers and refugees have not been securitized in the EU. However, irregular migrants have been securitized in the EU and the measures taken to prevent irregular migration have had an impact on the ability of asylum-seekers to gain access to asylum systems in the EU.

In relation to the ‘Fortress Europe’ argument, this means that there are contradictory signs in terms of empirical developments. EU Asylum policy has actually increased the rights of those who are granted refugee status in the EU compared to the situation prior to the EU’s involvement in the area. However, EU border policy has made it harder to potential asylum seekers to enter the territory of the member states, though of course not impossible. Therefore, we cannot really speak of a fortress, even though it has become harder over the last years.

2. I am not sure that migratory pressure is necessarily the best term as it implies a negative connotation. There could be bigger flows of migrants over the next years, if the situation in Syria, Mali, Nigeria, and other countries, is anything to go by. However, it is important to remember that the biggest flows of migrants, and potential asylum-seekers, are not actually on the territory of EU member states, but, for the most part, in the region of origin. The refugee crisis in Syria has clearly produced many refugees, but, for the most part, these have not come to the EU. Large populations are in the region of origin, for instance in Turkey, Lebanon, etc. Therefore, European societies should be perfectly able to cope with the numbers of migrants coming in the near future – after all, the numbers are far lower than in the 1990s. Yes, we do see worrying signs, such as the rise of Golden Dawn in Greece, but these societal developments are not driven by migration, but larger socioeconomic trends within Greece, such as the economic crisis. Developments on this scale should not surprise us given the difficult economic situation in Greece, which the worst economic crisis in Europe after the second world war. We should however be careful not to blame migrants for an economic situation that has nothing to do with migration itself.

Giacomo OrsiniResearch Student, Department of Sociology, University of Essex

1. With regards to idea of the EU as “Fortress Europe”, I can answer you as a specialist on European external border management and European migration policies, rather than as a expert on European asylum policies. Indeed, although all these articulated and complex policy sets are of course strictly interrelated among themselves, I never specialized on Asylum policies per se and so I can say little about them. However, during my periods of study spent in Melilla, Morocco and Malta – as well as now in Lampedusa – I could develop a deep and articulated understanding of how in general the so believed “Fortress Europe” works along its most external boundary as well as outside of it. Basically, the Southern Mediterranean realities I analyzed reveal how in fact the European external border – that could be understood as the wall of the “Fortress” – works as a permeable system of barriers, rather than as an insurmountable spatial limit. Following the analysis developed in particular by the two Italian scholars Paolo Cuttitta (University of Palermo) and Sandro Mezzadra (University of Bologna), while basing myself on the data I directly collected in the last years, I can surely say that the EU border regime works as a sort of filter aiming to slow down or at least drive migrants inflow rather than stopping it. In other words, despite the numerous agreements established with neighbouring countries such as Morocco, Tunisia and Libya in order to extend the control of migration outside the territory of the EU, migrants arrivals never really decreased – rather, they slightly increased. Facing such a situation, European bordering countries tightened their counter-measures basically by extending the period of detention for migrants. All of this, in a frame where the 80-90% of migrants who irregularly reside inside the EU entered with regular VISA – generally a tourist one – to remain inside the Schengen territory after it expired – overstayers. In a way, by not reflecting the reality, the concept of “Fortress Europe” seems rather to serve the highly politicized rhetoric of migrants invasion and so the spectacuralization of the border.

However, trying to get back to asylum policies, what I can say is that the numerous civil servants I spoke with during my field works confirmed that, although asylum requirements were only slightly hardened in the last years, the reality is that refugees applications are increasingly rejected by the diverse entitled national authorities. In particular, this happens on the basis of the assumption that since the mid ‘90s, an increasing number of economic migrants begun to apply for asylum in order to get the right to reside inside the EU. So, apparently, more and more application are rejected, although nationals normative frames did not changed significantly. In other words, if on the one hand the legal frame did not changed that much, the same cannot be said of home offices attitude toward asylum seekers’ applications. Nevertheless, inside this picture it as to be underlined as the situation is rather jeopardized across the EU. Indeed, if countries such as Malta are accepting an increasing number of applications – despite the consequent difficulties related to the implementation of the Dublin regulation – others such as the UK are rather going in the opposite direction, with countless reforms of their legal frames for asylum.

2. Looking to future migratory trends, I would not say that we can expect any significant increase of the number of migrants reaching the EU. If on the one hand it is true that worldly speaking the number of migrants is increasing, this regards especially internal – not international – migrations. Numbers demonstrate as migrants move toward the closest urban centres or the neighbouring country inside the same continent, rather than moving to what is generally perceived as the West – Europe and North America. In general, it is demonstrated as people prefer not to move too far away from their families/relatives/friends, preferring seasonal migrations to permanent ones. After all, migrants around the world are normal people that do not decide of their lives only on the basis of the maximum possible economic profit!

Besides, due to the EU debt crisis on the one hand, and to the rapid economic growth of Latin America, South Asia and some of the Middle East countries, intercontinental migrants are in general diversifying their destinations with fewer deciding to move to EU countries – more information over the overall trends of world migrations can be found on the IOM website. Besides, as most of the interviews I had with migrants waiting to enter the EU as well as already regularly/irregularly residing inside the EU demonstrate, the situation would dramatically change by redefining EU VISA policies. Indeed, by lowering the requirements to get an EU VISA, non-EU migrants would regularly enter the EU to then returning to their countries of origin more frequently/easily in case thy did not find an occupation. It is another matter of fact that those entering the EU irregularly come from the middle classes of their country of origin: the travels to irregularly enter the EU are in fact very expansive and only few can pay for them. Thus, it make sense to think that facing a jobless destiny inside the EU, they would prefer to go back to their middle-class style lives outside Europe. But, if in order to enter the EU they have to face such dramatic travels, it is very hard to think that they will never give up and/or return to their country of origin.

Leonhard den Hertog , LLM, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Cologne

1. I think that the EU has made it increasingly difficult for people to reach Europe in legal ways to seek international protection here, thereby forcing people more and more into irregular migration flows with all the risks involved of exploitation and death in e.g. the Mediterranean Sea. The ‘Fortress Europe’ metaphor therefore applies more to EU’s border policy than it applies to its asylum legislation. Still, many individuals are able to make it to Europe, but, yes, increasingly the EU is closing off routes and thereby building a network of controls one could compare to ‘Fortress Europe’.

2. I think that we should be prepared to take responsibility for larger migration flows in the future, not only because there is still much volatility in EU’s direct region but also because the EU will need more foreign workers in the future. The EU is ready to cope with it if we effectively share this responsibility and could benefit from it in fact. We are after all speaking about rather small numbers, especially if you compare it to the number of migrants and refugees in the developing countries. The problem with Greece is mismanagement and also importantly that solidarity between EU Member States is lacking. The ‘Dublin’ System (i.e. EU legislation to establish the responsible Member State for asylum application) is aggravating the unequal responsibility-sharing in Europe.

Natasja ReslowPh.D. Candidate, Political Science Department, Maastricht University

1. I’m not an expert on asylum legislation, my work concerns only EU migration policy. So I can’t really determine whether the EU is a Fortress Europe in terms of asylum (in your article, it would be good to point out the difference between asylum and migration – asylum only refers to the people coming to the EU to seek protection because they fear persecution in their home country. Migration refers to people who come to the EU for other reasons e.g. to seek work, or to join family members living here). In terms of migration, I think it’s certainly true that, unless you’re highly-educated/from a developed country/married to an EU citizen, it’s extremely difficult to enter the EU. It’s also extremely attractive: as long as there are such big differences between the EU and its neighbouring countries in terms of wealth, welfare, education, political freedom etc., then people from these countries will try to migrate to/seek asylum in the EU.

2. I can’t predict the future – the number of people trying to reach the EU will depend on economic factors and political factors, both in the EU and its neighbouring countries. If there is more conflict in neighbouring countries, there will be more people seeking asylum in the EU. If the economic situation in neighbouring countries gets worse, it’s likely that more people will seek their luck in the EU instead. If the economic situation in the EU gets better, so that the gap with its neighbouring countries gets bigger, it’s also likely that more people will try to come here. My research doesn’t concern integration policy or the reception of immigrants in European societies, and I don’t think there is any such thing as a society being ‘ready’ for immigration, but in my personal opinion the way that a society deals with migrants is determined by the discourse amongst the political elite. If migrants are spoken about in terms of ‘problems’ by our politicians, then it’s hardly surprising that this attitude is picked up in the rest of society. Politicians must be very careful not to blame immigrants for the current financial problems in the EU – Europe knows from historical experience what happens when one group of people is used as a scape-goat for all the ills of society.

Laura Robbins-WrightPhD Candidate in Government, London School of Economics

In 2010, the United Nations Population Division published data which demonstrated that the population of the European Union is ageing and that fertility rates are low at less than 2.1 children per woman. Between 1990 and 2010, Member States including Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, and Romania experienced a natural population decline because the number of deaths exceeded the number of births. During the same period, most Member States that experienced a natural increase in population also had more immigrants than emigrants.

The European Union appears to be aware of these demographic changes, and while immigrant integration is currently a matter for intergovernmental cooperation, many Member States have sought to enhance immigrant integration at the local, national, and regional level. In 2004, Member States developed 11 non-binding principles on immigrant integration which were intended to serve as the basis for further collaboration and discussion. In 2011, the European Commission acknowledged that a dynamic and multi-faceted approach to integration was essential for maximising the benefits of migration. On 20 November, 2012 the Council of the European Union held a conference on immigrant integration in Cyprus that discussed issues such as discrimination, identity, and local and national approaches to integration, among others. Since Ireland, a country of net immigration between 1995 and 2008, will assume the Council presidency in January 2013 immigrant integration could remain on the agenda well into next year.


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