More Barbwire or More Immigration, or Both? EU Migration Policy in the Nexus of Border Security Management and Neoliberal Economic Growth

By Hansen, Peo | Seton Hall Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations, Winter 2010 | Go to article overview

More Barbwire or More Immigration, or Both? EU Migration Policy in the Nexus of Border Security Management and Neoliberal Economic Growth


Hansen, Peo, Seton Hall Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations


Since the late 1980s a growing number of scholars, journalists, and NGOs have been employing the metaphor fortress Europe to depict what are allegedly disastrous migration policies enacted within the framework of the European Union. Today, fortress Europe has matured into a politically foodoose charge, which means that Brussels and member state governments no longer enjoy the luxury of brushing it aside as the mere cry of the idealistic and hyperbolic do-gooders on the left. Rather, the portrayal of the EU as a fortress, dead set on repelling migrants from the less fortunate places of the world, now also holds sway within much of the global news media's neoliberal punditry.

On one level, the fortress Europe charge is both understandable and laudable. It represents a moral and political refusal to retreat into complacency before the almost daily news images of capsized refugee boats in the Mediterranean, and the equally frequent reports of drowned Africans floating ashore on the beaches of Spain, Malta or Italy. It also represents a sobering response to the EU's twenty-yearold assertion that the migration crisis somehow can be solved, or at least alleviated, by throwing more security measures at the problem; that is, more militarized border controls, barbwire, thermocameras, patrol boats, helicopters, external camps, and cooperation with countries such as Morocco and Libya to combat so-called illegal immigration.1 After all, the EU's sustained investment in security-oriented migration measures has coincided with the steady increase of migrant casualties in the Mediterranean and elsewhere.

For all its merits, however, I have to confess my growing unease with the unreserved employment of the fortress Europe metaphor. The concern is how we would make empirical and theoretical sense of the fact that the steady reinforcement of fortress Europe, from the mid-1980s onwards, has gone in tandem with an equally steady growth in precisely that which the fortress is intended to prevent, namely illegal immigration, or better, irregular immigration? Current EU estimates put the number of illegal - or irregular - migrants in the EU-25 at about 8 million.2 This increase in irregular migration is largely resulting from a labor market demand, as in many EU countries the cheap and flexible labor provided by irregular migrants has become a structural necessity. More precisely, irregular migration has been enabled by the past decades' neoliberal transformations of the EU's social relations and political economy.3 At first sight, there is a glaring contradiction between the EU's stated objective of fighting illegal migration on the one side, and its neo-liberal economic objectives on the other. That is to say, the latter objective's translation into more flexible labor markets, which often are made to rely on a steady increase of cheap and casual migrant labor, has acted to offset the former objective. In the early 1990s, research started to attend to this condition and was able to demonstrate that many EU governments that chimed to be fighting illegal immigration, were in actuality quite aware of and even content with the fact that their economies were profiting from the cheap labor performed by illegal or irregular migrants.4 In this sense' what we are dealing with may not be so much of a contradiction after all. Instead we are better off conceptualizing the connection between migration and political economy - between fortress Europe and neoliberal Europe - in terms of a dynamic relation, thus acknowledging and accounting for the fact that migration cannot be understood in isolation from the wider political economic orientation of European integration.

My main objection to the fortress Europe metaphor thus lies in its risk of providing further sustenance to such isolationism, thereby obscuring and confusing more than it reveals. To be sure, the fortress metaphor may work quite well with regards to the EU asylum policy, as its objective is unequivocal; the EU does not want asylum seekers on its territory and thus does its utmost to keep them out. …

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More Barbwire or More Immigration, or Both? EU Migration Policy in the Nexus of Border Security Management and Neoliberal Economic Growth
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