Immigration: National interest comes first

28 April 2011 – Presseurop Presseurop

The crisis prompted by the arrival in Italy of thousands of North African migrants has highlighted a desire on the part of national governments to take control of issues they consider to be crucial to their future performance in elections — a development that the European press argues is much to the detriment of the EU.

"Member states were wrong to consider that the wave of migrants landing on the island of Lampedusa was strictly an internal Italian matter. And Italy’s reaction, which was to allow the new arrivals to travel to other European countries, and in particular to France, has thrown petrol on the flames,"

writes NRC Handelsblad in a report which bemoans the absence of solidarity between member states on the issue of the North African migrants. According to the Dutch newspaper, "populist measures like tighter border controls are little more than symbolic."

In fact, it would be much more efficient if member states "acknowledged their shared responsibility for Europe’s external borders by establishing a common immigration policy. But instead, they have continued to live in the world they left behind 26 years ago,” when they signed the Schengen Agreement.

In an interview published by NRC, a researcher for the Centre for European Reform, Hugo Brandy, explains that:

"the crisis surrounding the Schengen Agreement is comparable to the one faced by the single currency," because "Schengen and the euro both depend on mutual trust. Now that certain countries are betraying that trust, we are having to resort to sanctions. In both cases, we are wondering if these crises will prove to be setbacks, or if, on the contrary, they will act as a spur for integration.”

In France, Le Monde is keen to defend the benefits of Schengen at a time when the agreement has been threatened by a migration flow, which "is not as Paris claims on a ‘Biblical’ scale, but significant" nonetheless.

"Signed in the 1980s, the Schengen Agreement, which was mainly designed to cover internal European migration, ranks, along with the euro, as one of Europe’s greatest achievements: a common currency and no more borders, two highly charged symbols!

"However, Schengen will have to be adapted in response to new migration flows, and that means additional help for states — like Italy, Greece and Spain — which are located on the EU’s external borders and tasked with regulating immigration. At the same time, if the Arab Spring is not to result in increased migration, there is a real need for an EU investment strategy to provide aid and long-term loans for its southern neighbours. All of this comes at a cost, and this is the main problem for the EU for which the issue of greater budgetary solidarity remains a taboo subject. One Franco-Italian letter to Brussels will not be enough to change this."

In La Stampa, historian Gian Enrico Rusconi notes that the current "Mediterranean-Libyan crisis" has marked the official end of "the triangle formed by Italy, France and Germany, which has had a major influence on the history of the European project."

"Germany has become increasingly inward looking, and France plays its cards with sovereign indifference, while the European Commission has emerged as a weak executive that is lacking in self-confidence, and even powerless. Although it feels that it is to some extent a victim, Italy has chosen to privilege alliances with more powerful countries, but on a fundamental level it no longer knows where it is going."

Looking back on the "long-term vision" and the "determination" of the German, French and Italian leaders of the post-war period, who engaged "their three nations in a process to construct a new Europe," Rusconi affirms that "this cycle has either come to a close, or at best, has been irredeemably altered".

"Along with more than 20 other countries, the three nations continue to be bound to each other by institutional links that are significant and even irreversible, but these links are anything but efficient when Europe is called on to address major issues like the use of military force, or the control of borders and spheres of influence. On these matters, it seems that plain old national sovereignty is still the main priority. Differences and national interests which had pompously been written off as obsolescent have once again come to the fore."