‘The Walls of Europe’

On Saturday November 9, Europe celebrated the 30-year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall that marked the end of a separated Europe from two different, controlling ideologies. However, 30 years later Europe is building walls again, only this time to keep refugees and migrants from entering Europe. A report recently published by the Dutch organisation Stop Wapenhandel (Stop Arms Trade) argues that “Europe is divided not so much by ideology as by perceived fear of refugees and migrants, some of the world’s most vulnerable people”. The report finds that Europe is spending a lot of money and technology on protecting its borders in a time where new migration policies permeate interior policies in Europe.

Read the full report here.

‘Protection’ of Europe
Europe is employing an old tactic of building walls for ‘protection’ measures against refugees and migrants. This includes both physical walls, barbed wires, and invisible walls, such as virtual walls, used for information of people, and maritime walls. Stop Wapenhandel argues in its report that “[t]he ships, aircrafts and drones used to patrol the Mediterranean Sea have created a maritime wall and a graveyard for the thousands of migrants and refugees who have no legal passage to safety or to exercise their right to seek asylum”.

For these ‘protection’ measures, Europe has spent a lot of money. As put forward in the report, European countries have spent €900 million on land walls since the beginning of the 1990s, €1.7 billion to the EU’s External Borders Fund, €2.76 billion from 2014-2020 to the Internal Security Fund – Borders Fund, €676.4 million on maritime walls, and €999.4 million on Europe’s virtual wall. This amount of money comes from different funds and the EU, but nonetheless display a financial priority on security measures. These security measures have however “created an atmosphere of fear, inflamed xenophobia and formed a dangerous world for migrants”.

Migration policies and the security agenda permeate European politics
All of this comes at a time where interior policies are pervaded by concerns around migration. Only two weeks ago, Greece introduced a new law to simplify and speed up the deportation process of rejected asylum seekers and France says that it will start to employ quotas on economic migrants. Meanwhile, both Italy and Malta have negotiated arrangements with the Libyan Coastguard on intercepting boats with people trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea, and Spain has praised the works carried out by Morocco on intercepting boats.

These policies imply that Europe is setting up ever stricter policies and arrangements to control migration and to keep away people trying to enter Europe. This results in further externalisation of migration policy which keeps out the people, but aggravates problems such as human trafficking.

When looking at the EU’s strategic agenda for 2019-2024, it appears that these protective measures will remain and grow for the next couple of years. The agenda highlights that “[w]e [the EU] need to know and be the ones to decide who enters the EU. Effective control of the external borders is an absolute prerequisite for guaranteeing security,” showing that the EU will continue to spend increased resources on the security agenda.

The fact that both the EU and interior policies of the individual member states are oriented towards measures to keep migrants and refugees away from European territory help to facilitate the idea of the ‘walls of Europe’.

Will Europe find itself in a place of walls again?
Author and contributor to the European think-tank Carnegie Endowment, Judy Dempsey, holds that Europe is building walls again, which “are designed to keep people out, and to stop them sharing in our peace, prosperity, and good fortune.” However, experts on the agenda, accentuate the future of Europe’s security policies depends on the popularity of right-wing, populist movements and whether their policies are normalised.

Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for European Reform, Agata Gostyńska-Jakubowska, also highlights the role of the new European Commission, and here especially President candidate Ursula von der Leyen, and “whether she goes down in history as a builder of bridges rather than walls”.