Fortress Europe?

The European Union proposals on curbing illegal immigration have touched off a heated debate on this crucial issue, which is expected to top the agenda at the upcoming EU summit in Seville. The measures should come as no surprise. On the one hand, there is renewed concern over the consequences of illegal immigration in the wake of September 11, and on the other, growing sensitivity to European public opinion, which has been dangerously manifested in the ascent of xenophobic, populist, rightist extremism in the continent’s recent electoral battles. Some of the European Commission proposals, such as systematic cooperation between the police and judicial bodies of the European Union’s 15 member states, are self-evident and should have occurred long ago. Others, such as the establishment of a European border police, are essential. Failure to implement them until now has highlighted Europe’s inconsistency: Integrated Europe refuses to guarantee what is most necessary for such integration – the security of its member states through the creation of a genuinely European force, a step that Greece has every reason to support. But Europe has been oversensitive about a less important issue and is trying to guard its borders against economic migrants and political asylum seekers. There are proposals, such as the introduction of personalized identification cards, including fingerprints and other physical characteristics, and the monitoring of electronic communication, which raise concerns over the erosion of European citizens’ democratic rights. Unfortunately, it seems that the rationale of building «Fortress Europe» to stave off the hordes of the «new barbarians» is gaining ground with some governments, particularly those ruling coalitions which include far-right parties. Even socialist governments are in favor of introducing such draconian measures, in the hope that this will pull the rug from under the feet of extremist parties. In truth, this will only allow xenophobic parties to claim that they have received their moral and political vindication. It is to be hoped that reason will prevail in Seville and that Europe’s political elites will manage to strike a balance between security and democracy, laying the foundations for a well-governed, albeit open Europe, a Europe that will fortify solidarity, tolerance, and multiculturalism.

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