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The Maastricht Diplomat

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Building Walls or Breaking Barriers: The EU's Struggle with Migration Control

Two positions on the EU´s migration crisis:


A few days ago, on the 28th of March 2023, the committee on budgets of the European Parliament voted against the funding of fences at the borders of the EU at the expense of requests from several member states to the European Commission. Indeed, Europe has been affected by an unprecedented migration crisis in recent years. In 2022, Frontex reported 330,000 irregular entries into the European Union, the highest figure since 2016. More recently, on February 1, 2023, at a plenary session of the European Parliament, Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen spoke of an unprecedented situation “which must be met with a European response”. According to her, legislation should continue to be drafted with a view to concluding the pact on asylum and migration by spring 2024, while also developing actions to improve the protection of external borders.

"Fortifying Europe's Borders: the Solution to the EU's Migration Crisis"


Given the unique circumstances, one wonders why the proposal to build a wall financed by the EU was rejected by the European Parliament. Isn't building a wall the easiest solution? Is it not the duty of the European Union to help the countries to cope with the influx of illegal migrants? In any case, this is what the countries in favor of such infrastructures claim. Indeed, in the context of a EU Summit in Brussels on February 9 of this year, several member states, such as Hungary, Bulgaria, Greece, but also Austria, argued that this would be an effective border protection measure that would serve the interests of the EU as a whole, and not just the member states in the frontline. Building a wall in cross-border areas would make it a European project rather than a national problem. And a European project would make it more efficient and avoid the flaws present in the national deal. In fact, the current situation in which fences do not cover the whole of the European borders has a “detour effect”. In other words, “these walls divert migration flows to other parts of the border where there are fewer fences. In this context, only European walls could have a direct effect on migration flows. A wall makes it difficult and expensive to cross a border. Thus, individuals may choose to stay in their countries and not migrate at all.

For now, the EU has chosen not to fund the wall project. According to the Union, it is not a conceivable action to address growing migratory pressure at the EU's borders. Member states that are faced with the influx of migrants are thus left alone to protect their borders. There are already 19 walls in the EU/ Schengen Area, which represent more than 2000 km of border across the EU. All of them are the consequence of national anti-migration politics. Nationalist government of Viktor Orban started to build in 2016 walls between Hungary and Serbia. More recently, Poland built a 180-km fence in early 2022 in less than 180 days when faced with the arrival of migrants at its border with Belarus.


The EU has such disparate and unequal asylum policies that it is unable to establish a common system of migration control. Persistent disagreements among Member States makes the Union powerless against this extraordinary and ever-changing migratory challenge. The conflict between Russia and Ukraine led to a fresh influx of refugees and exposed again weaknesses in the EU's border security. Moreover, the post-pandemic surge in asylum seekers and illegal immigrants has placed further strain on the EU's external borders. Additionally, third countries' attempts to manipulate the flow of irregular migrants for their own purposes have only added to the challenges faced by the EU.


"Beyond Walls: The Urgent Need for Effective Climate and Migration Policies in the EU"


Between 2014 and 2022, the length of fences at the European Union’s external borders increased sixfold. However, for many, that is still not enough. In this context, aggressive voices demanding the “fortess-ification” of the EUs external borders have become increasingly louder. While the longing to keep” the unknown out” has been around for centuries, the sudden resurgence of discriminatory ideologies demanding the funding of enhanced border control poses a severe threat to the future of the EU.

In reality, the idea behind this recently announced demand, namely reducing migration flow by strengthening border control, is based on the wrong premise that building higher walls keeps immigrants out. Only a brief look into the world suffices to see that this has never been true. Instead, the idea of “abolishing” migration is just another way of refusing to acknowledge the EU’s responsibility in the international community, finally might be the root cause of this phenomenon. In that sense, the declaration of Joseph Borrell, High Representative of the EU Foreign Affairs, “walls will never be high enough to keep people out”, rightfully summarizes the actual misconception at stake: Constructing walls will have the sole effect of causing even higher death rates. Instead of entirely shutting immigration out, alternative ways of crossing the border will unarguably be found. Considering the predominant ethnic backgrounds, maritime routes, which inevitably involve smugglers, have proven to be the favored ones in the past.


The implosion of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the subsequent feeling of liberation and peace initiated the idea of a united and peaceful Europe. Consequently, with the coming into force of the Schengen Agreement in 1985, the definite abolition of systematic internal border control was laid down. Thirty years later, the traumatic memory of a once-divided Europe has considerably faded. The once so proudly announced shared values of freedom of movement and solidarity appear to have fallen into oblivion. Alternatively, self-ascribed moral superiority and irrational fear of ethnic degradation have replaced the once proudly announced creation of “a community of shared values”. In this context, one may rightfully ask how the increasing fortress-ification of the EU could be reconcilable with the enshrined protection of human rights.

As mentioned earlier, the debate about the construction of walls can legitimately be narrowed down to the attempt to conceal the real problem the EU is currently facing: the decade-long ignored responsibility to address the root cause of migration. Whereas research has shown that the leading cause of mass movement has been the direct and indirect consequences of environmental degradation, the effort to attack the problem at its roots has been considerably low - to say the least. Yet, ironically, when it comes to fighting the symptoms of the problem, voices tend to get more demanding.


The growing demand for increased border control in the EU is nothing else than the consequence of the failed harmonization of migration policies in the EU. More precisely, agreeing on implementing the Common European Asylum system has by far not had the wished effects of implementing standardized criteria for granting asylum. In practice, limited cooperation and a lack of solidarity between the member states have severely restrained the aim of creating a fair and efficient asylum system in the EU. Additionally, instead of tackling the obvious causes of the issue, ineffective provisions are not far from being put into practice. Ultimately, the demand for increased border control is nothing but an overdue alarm to finally agree on harmonized and effective climate and migration policies.


This article was written for the MD x EuroMUN Printed Edition.


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