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Europe and the refugees: a demographic enlargement

We will begin to understand that in order for Europe to be able to carry out the task which has suddenly fallen to it, a new Europe is required, with a different political form.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel after EU migration meeting. German Chancellor Angela Merkel after EU migration meeting. Demotix/Jakob Ratz. All rights reservedWhile the ministers and heads of the European Union’s 28 members states keep struggling among themselves, but also against the inadequacy of the construction (or the “material constitution”) of Europe to discuss and decide about the common good, the “refugee crisis” keeps worsening, affecting an increasing number of countries located at each point of the “migrant’s track”, and progressively bordering on humanitarian catastrophe with the winter approaching fast. We cannot predict the exact development of the situation, which can change almost overnight, but we can see that we have passed a point of no-return of historic magnitude.

The moment has come to assess this event which confronts the ‘community’ of European nations, and to take stock of the contradictions which are revealed within this ‘community’ and at the heart of each of its members. Extending Chancellor Merkel’s prediction regarding Germany (‘these events are going to change our country’)[1] to Europe in its entirety, i would say for my part: these events are going to change Europe. But in what way? The question is not clear cut, though it may be soon. We are entering an expanse of brutal fluctuations where one must be realistic as much as resolute.

What is taking place before our eyes is in fact an enlargement of the EU and the European construction. However, in contrast to previous ‘enlargements’ (desired or accepted by states, achieved through negotiations, approved by treaties), this one is imposed by recent events as part of a ‘state of exception’, and has not been passed unanimously. As a consequence, this enlargement will encounter considerable difficulties (more so than its predecessors) and will provoke political standoffs with unpredictable outcomes.

Above all, this enlargement is paradoxical because it is not territorial (even if it carries territorial implications) but demographic: at the moment, it is not a new state which is ‘entering into Europe’ (and which, in large measure, must be ‘integrated’ into Europe), but men, women, and children. These are Europe’s virtual citizens.

Though human primarily, this enlargement is also moral : it is an expansion of the definition of Europe, from the idea that it has of itself to the interests it defends and to the objectives which it assigns to itself. The combination of all of these dimensions brings us to the notion of the political enlargement which is set to ‘revolutionise’ the rights and obligations of the EU member states. Naturally, this enlargement may fail, though the European construction itself in that case has little chance of resisting (and notably some of its preceding expansions might be undone). This is why many in Europe today (including many among the political classes) are rightly talking about a moment of truth.

There is no doubt indeed that the material and moral situation created by the influx of refugees – moving from Turkey, Greece, Macedonia and Italy, through Hungary, Austria and France, and towards the central and northern European countries (particularly Germany, and Sweden, currently the most welcoming nations) – is an ‘exceptional’ one. But why speak of this ‘state of exception', a notion that bears formidable juridical and political significance and evokes moments when the institutional framework of everyday life is shaken, and the collective identities of peoples are trembling? I would cite three reasons at least.

The first is that, de facto, the Schengen agreements completed by the Dublin settlement (I, II, and III) – an important part of the European ‘constitution’, one of its ‘pillars’ in fact – has stopped functioning. This suspension was established as soon as the German government declared that it would not apply Dublin registration rules to Syrian refugees arriving in countries within the Schengen zone. The decision taken on September 13 to close the border with Austria again –  due to the overflow of Germany’s capacities and due to the ill will of other European countries (who refuse in principle to share the burden or who agree to do so only verbally, in the long term and within narrow limits, like France) – will change nothing, and actually makes clear that the opening and closure of Europe’s ‘interior’ frontiers is now subject to arbitrary decisions taken by states, and the liberty of movement is restricted.

The second reason is that Europe’s ‘migration problem’ is completely inseparable from the state of war in the Middle East stretching from Afghanistan to Western Africa (with its epicentre in Syria and Iraq), which represents the principal source of the influx of refugees. What ravages the whole region is a generalised civil war – with a cruelty and a capacity for destruction unseen in our part of the world since WW2  –  that was created in part and is constantly aggravated by external interventions, and has now taken on its own dynamic. What ravages the whole region is a generalised civil war – with a cruelty and a capacity for destruction unseen in our part of the world since WW2  –  that was created in part and is constantly aggravated by external interventions, and has now taken on its own dynamic. We are helpless to stop it now, and in the near future, especially not least by intensifying the ‘strikes’ practised by the US and replicated more modestly by France and England. The number of victims and refugees generated by this war is therefore steadily growing. Momentarily concentrated in the ‘buffer’ countries (Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Tunisia, and also Egypt), the exodus has reached saturation levels and threatens to blow up. The territory affected by this contagion of war covers the whole of Europe - including of course through the risks of the spread of terrorism, which is bound to interfere in the ‘policing’ of migration (in imagination as in reality).

Finally we can speak of the state of exception because, more than other factors of acute ideological and political conflict in Europe (like the politics of austerity), the migration crisis is still in the process of destroying the consensus on the constitutional ‘values’ of the democratic state. This could lead to Europe confronting itself in a struggle which is susceptible to taking on violent forms, in some countries at least. All these aspects are clearly linked.

Here, let us incorporate some observations on Angela Merkel – German federal Chancellor – and her actions since the explosion of the crisis at the end of August. She has played a decisive role in the definition of its political character. In fact, while trying her best to conserve control (which may be escaping her now), it is she who declared this state of exception by taking ‘unilateral’ measures.  Above all, it is she who challenged the crisis to reorganize our state of rights and to eliminate any tolerance for xenophobic or racist attitudes and group practices, by welcoming an immense Völkerwanderung of victims of war and persecution.

Those (and I am one) who absolutely condemn the way in which Chancellor Merkel has managed the German imposition of austerity politics on the whole of Europe, those who particularly condemn the humiliation and expropriation of Greece, should today know how to recognize the value of her actions, and should say so. This proves the complexities of the political realities which cannot be read through the spectacles of ideology. Of course, Merkel did not act alone: she interpreted the strength of solidarity stemming from a significant part of German society (and took the risk of angering another part of society which, now, is beginning to make itself heard).

One might, as others have done, suppose that by doing so she was just pursuing the interests of the German economy (which badly needs demographic reinforcing and a renewal of a skilled workforce – abundant amongst the refugees), going against the xenophobic bias and remembering the benefits that her country has reaped from the supply of other refugees in former times. One might even imagine that ‘Merkiavelli’ (as she was called by the sociologist Ulrich Beck) seized the chance to correct the image of inhumanity which the ‘settlement’ of the Greek crisis had imprinted on her.

But all these explanations are short-sighted, and above all they are incapable of grasping the objective effect of Merkel’s decision, which transforms the facts of the ‘constitutional’ problem in Europe and intensifies the latent conflict within European ‘identity’, as much from the point of view of the social regime as from the cultural perspective. It may be (though i doubt it) that Merkel, acting ‘conscientiously’, did not fully understand how far she was engaging herself (and us along with her) : the important thing is that she crossed a point of no return and must now face the consequences, and defend their significance. Hic Rhodus, hic salta. It may be (though i doubt it) that Merkel, acting ‘conscientiously’, did not fully understand how far she was engaging herself (and us along with her) : the important thing is that she crossed a point of no return and must now face the consequences, and defend their significance. Hic Rhodus, hic salta.

I will describe four categories of major consequence. The first ones concern the governance of European borders, including their layout and relationship to national sovereignty. The Schengen agreement was based on the illconceived presupposition that we can ‘pool’ the surveillance of entrances into and exits from the communal space, whilst continuing to hold states as sovereign from the point of view of security or protection – and as responsible for the individuals who find themselves on their ‘own’ territory. Thus the catastrophic situation facing Italy, Greece, and even Hungary, whilst the other European states, governed by ‘sacred egoism’, either bury their heads or barricade themselves in.

On the other hand, the European Union – through its selective enlargements – had sought to maintain both the idea that it has the vocation to incorporate all the European nations (at least to the west of a certain line of ‘civilisation’, whose fragility is now manifested by the Ukrainian war), and also the idea that its membership (as in a ‘club’) involves observing certain ‘conditions of compliance’ (more or less strictly, in practice). This explains the position of anachronistic enclaving division in which some countries of the old Yugoslavia find themselves today (Serbia, Macedonia), wherein they bear the brunt of the pressure of the movement of the refugees, because they represent the ‘access points’ to the heart of Europe. 

This situation is untenable from a security perspective as much as from a humanitarian perspective: it will either be necessary for all the Balkan countries to become incorporated into Europe as fully fledged participants and therefore as beneficiaries of its aid, or it will be necessary for Europe to abolish the procedures of community security, at the moment when these become a central issue for its ‘governance’.

But more generally (as I argued in my previous essay published on openDemocracy : ‘Borderland Europe and the Challenge of Migrations’), it will become apparent that Europe does not ‘have’ borders in the classic sense: neither borders which are its own, nor borders which belong to its nations. Rather, it is itself a ‘border’ of a new type created as a result of globalisation,, a Borderland or a complex of institutions and security devices stretched across its whole territory with the aim of ‘regulating’ population movements (especially those which happen between the ‘North’ and the ‘South’) in a discriminatory fashion, and therefore in an increasingly violent fashion which is more or less democratically established and controlled.

Hence the second series of consequences which concern the migratory patterns that Europe wants to limit and above all to define juridically and politically, in order to avoid appearing like a ‘continent of settlement’ (Einwanderungskontinent). This is also a (negative) way to define itself. Despite its value and interest, I will leave out the controversy aroused by the Al Jazeera channel when it decided to prohibit the usage of the term ‘migrant’. In the current controversy surrounding the establishment of ‘quotas’ for the distribution of refugees in Europe, Germany and the European Commission are obstinately clinging to the distinction between ‘refugees’ and ‘economic migrants’. They do this both to appease public opinion (favourable to the former and mostly hostile to the latter) and to maintain a difference in the administrative treatment of new arrivals, or else the only thing left to do would be to decree the abolition of borders (‘Tür und Tor öffnen’ writes the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung).[2] For my part, i would not say that this distinction is nonsensical, even if the first category defines a personal status in international law (which is why many associations for refugee relief are attached to it), which is in no way the same case for the second.[3] There is indeed no ‘migration status’ in today’s world, only a ‘biopolitical’ processing, as Foucault would say. 

But the current situation clearly reveals that the difference is sociologically arbitrary, since ‘savage’ globalisation tends to transform zones of impoverishment into zones of war and vice versa. These are overdetermined death zones , fled en masse by their inhabitants who are ready to risk losing everything. And above all we must ask ourselves by which means (if not through renewed high level violence) the European Union will enact a policy of ‘sending them back’ regarding arrivals who do not qualify for ‘welcome’. What for decades has not worked on an individual level, has no chance whatsoever of working on a mass level. Otherwise, those who we send back as ‘economic migrants’ will end up in the networks of concentration camps on the South Bank of the Mediterranean, which sooner or later will make them ‘refugees’ – another perverse mechanism of the state of exception.What for decades has not worked on an individual level, has no chance whatsoever of working on a mass level. Otherwise, those who we send back as ‘economic migrants’ will end up in the networks of concentration camps on the South Bank of the Mediterranean, which sooner or later will make them ‘refugees’ – another perverse mechanism of the state of exception.

Contrary to the conditions of refugee or of ‘undesirable’ migrant, tossed from border to border or from camp to camp, what prospect therefore opens up for those who are chased by war or poverty and who risk their lives today to reach Europe (whilst losing many amongst them along the road)? What should Europe offer them? It cannot be less than access to European citizenship. It will therefore be necessary that this notion finally takes shape, or escapes the limbo in which it is kept (by the refusal of states to open the road to supranationality).

By asserting – at the beginning of this article – that we are witnessing the demographic enlargement of the European Union, it was this prospect that I wanted to indicate. This must be accommodated as a legal, regulated development, but an inevitable one. Everyone knows that the refugees are not arriving in order to leave: well, not all of them in any case and not before a very long time. If we don’t want to create a new underclass population – exposed to all the persecutions and all the deviances of marginality (think of Romas or ‘undocumented migrants’) – or a population of perpetual foreigners imprisoned in interior exile over many generations (think of the Palestinian camps in the Middle East), we must open the possibility of integration widely, that is to say the possibility of legal work, social rights, and equal cultural rights.

But the key to all these rights and to the ‘legitimate’ possession of them – before and against racist stigmatizations – is citizenship (or, as I called it once, co-citizenship).[4] Because the problem is a new one on this level and in this set of circumstances (identifiable neither with Vertriebenen, the ‘displaced persons’ of the Second World War, nor with the Hungarian refugees after 1956, nor with the ‘pieds noirs’ French Algerians after 1962, nor with the Vietnamese boat people of 1978-79…), one must invent new methods and new perspectives for access to properly European citizenship, methods and perspectives which de facto modify its definition. Ideally I can see two: the first would be to create a direct access within a ‘federal nationality’ – alongside the access through the road of national citizenship as it currently exists (we are ‘European citizens’ because we are citizens of the U.K., France, Germany, Poland, or Greece). It is what existed in a limited manner (by personal choice) in such federal states as  ex-Yugoslavia. If this proposition seems too subversive or too risky (since it also contributes to isolating refugees and their descendants, assigned to a ‘minority’ status, as long as nationality remains the ‘entry card’ to European citizenship for the majority of us), there remains another possibility which is more limited but probably better: that which consists of generalising the ‘ius soli’ across the European Union (in the way that the Greeks have just decreed) through a directive imposed on the members states.[5] In this way, the future of the refugees’ future children will be guaranteed, and it is known that this perspective is one of the most powerful push factors for the parents’ integration. It introduces both ‘dignity’ and ‘security’. It clearly suits to combine it with the broad recognition of double nationality, because to propose that refugees ought to integrate does not imply – except in the obsessions of xenophobic militants – that we are asking them to sever all ties to their history and to their country of origin, of which they have been stripped in a traumatic way.

Finally Germany’s decision to welcome refugees – by creating the state of exception which is leading us towards ‘demographic’ enlargement – involves a fourth order of ‘consequences’ for the whole of Europe: economically structural consequences. We hear intensive talk about the transformation of the job market, and it is true that this is important, but there is also an emergent debate about the price of welcoming and integrating refugees, about the community aids that are necessary in order that certain European countries are able to sustain rescue operations, registrations, transferals (above all Greece, Italy, in general the least wealthy South Mediterranean countries – those who were the principal victims of austerity politics), and European subsidies which form the logical counterpart to the imposition of the ‘quotas of accommodation’ (this is why, completely logically, Hungary which is emphatically refusing to adopt any quotas also turns away subsidies, but is willing to accept relief funding).

What must be said, in reality, is that the opening of Europe to refugees implies a change of doctrine and economic policy which contradicts its ‘current regime’, in the short-term. In absolute terms, the refugees represent but a tiny proportion of the European population (the equivalent of adding a small country to Europe). But the refugees are lacking everything, and for a long time to come will have to be supported by certain municipalities, regions and countries who are not prepared for them, or who are confronting real economic and financial difficulties themselves. We want to equally (or fairly) divide a joint charge between countries that have been pushed towards inequality by the politics of austerity and ‘non distorted’ competition.

It is therefore necessary to invert neoliberal tendencies, to increase the common budget of the EU in a significant fashion (a joint charge, a joint budget), to launch a ‘plan’ of integration on the European scale (housing, education, employment), to promote solidarity between states and to build a new society together, ensuring in particular that the integration of refugees into the employment market does not happen at the detriment of the ‘old Europeans’, or inversely - an assured recipe for xenophobia and social troubles.

But this design, or simply this organization of the division of labour, will in turn require (or accelerate) changes to monetary policy and to the progress of ‘federal’ construction (which can either be democratically decided and applied, giving them a chance of success, or technocratically imposed, which will lead to certain failure). We will begin to understand that in order for Europe to be able to carry out the task which has suddenly fallen to it, a new Europe is required, a Europe which ‘transforms’ itself. Nay, one with a different political form.

Of course, none of this will happen spontaneously, nor in unanimity. Before our eyes, the migratory state of exception is revealing the intra-European contradictions which was recovered, as much as possible, through the ideology of ‘common interest’ and ‘common standards’. And the perspective of the new enlargement awakens violent resistances which transform from hour to hour into a politically organised ‘refusal front’. The point most spoken about  – because of the obstruction that it provokes in the ‘mixed’ mechanism of European governance, shared between a pseudo federal form giving powers extended to the Commission (at least in appearance), and a confederal form in which the decisive instance is the Advice of governments where even the smallest of states have the rights of veto – is the rift which has formed (or appeared) between ‘ancient Europe’ (the West), and the ‘new Europe’ (the East): all manner of economic, cultural, historical, and political explanations have been proposed, all of which have their level of validity.[6] But the fact is that this ‘refusal’ is coming from the Netherlands and from Denmark as much as from Poland and Slovakia, without mentioning England or even France (which rallied belatedly to the idea of mandatory quotas whilst continuously attempting to minimise the corresponding obligations).

In reality, the most revealing divide in Europe – that which actually separates two ‘Europes’ (or the two politics of Europe) – manifests itself across all of its countries, even if it is following diverse proportions and different relationships of forces. It is certainly remarkable (‘miraculous’, some newspapers called it) that a large part of the German population actively moved to assist Syrian refugees, in significant unity with the Chancellor.[7] But it is equally significant that the leaders of the CSU – one pillar of its governmental coalition and the ‘sister-party’ of the CDU that she is leading – are overtly criticizing her politics, going so far as to conclude an alliance with Viktor Orban, the head of the Hungarian government, who is currently erecting a concrete barrier topped with razor wire along Hungary’s southern border; or that the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung published an editorial declaring that ‘the countries of the East are right’.[8] Since the ‘provisional’ closure of the border with Austria, the same people openly celebrate the ‘retreat’ of the Chancellor, ‘unprecedented in her career’, although they are not going so far as to explicitly demand her resignation.

In reality, what is in the process of being constructed in Europe is a transnational front of the forces rejecting refugees, a front not spearheaded exclusively by openly racist and violent groups (they form only the most visible detachment). Their arguments oscillate between utilitarianism (‘we don’t have the space’), ideological identity (an influx of Muslims threatens to denature ‘Christian Europe’ - or ‘secular Europe’, depending on the country), and the invoking of security threats (there are jihadists hiding amongst the migrants). Their arguments oscillate between utilitarianism (‘we don’t have the space’), ideological identity (an influx of Muslims threatens to denature ‘Christian Europe’ - or ‘secular Europe’, depending on the country), and the invoking of security threats (there are jihadists hiding amongst the migrants).Almost certainly and for the first time, we are going to assist in the emergence of a xenophobic populist ‘party’, anti-immigrant and anti-refugee, unified in Europe – something that had always failed until now because of petty rivalries and nationalisms. Conversely, the Europe of solidarity will not spare a specific political struggle, founded on new alliances: a struggle beginning with the intransigent condemnation of violence against migrants and, in continuation, reclaiming the material, social and legal conditions for their acceptance – which i have touched upon above. It is this struggle, if it is actually carried on, that ‘will transform’  the European Union most deeply.

But it is not yet won, that is the least we can say. Seen from France, where the National Front has contaminated all areas of political life, one might even say that it will be extremely difficult. Yet it is unavoidable, because the ‘cause of the refugees’ will decline rapidly and brutally if it does not make significant progress within public opinion and the institutions.

Such a struggle requires strong legitimacy, both within each country and across the whole EU. But, in truth, the only one that is capable of neutralizing objections and resistance is democratic legitimacy, as expressed by a majority of citizens and their representatives on all levels – from local collectives to nations and European governing bodies. And it is only the political will of the European peoples that can allow Germany to pass from a unilateral initiative – imposed by current circumstances and favoured by ‘German morality’ [9]– to community solidarity without which, despite its richness and determination, it will be unable to ‘make it’ (‘wir schaffen es doch nicht!’). And it is only the political will of the European peoples that can allow Germany to pass from a unilateral initiative – imposed by current circumstances and favoured by ‘German morality’ – to community solidarity without which, despite its richness and determination, it will be unable to ‘make it’ (‘wir schaffen es doch nicht!’).

It is decisive that – in such clarity for the first time since the reunification of the 90s – the Federal Republic finds itself in need of help and solidarity from European nations: need for itself, and need for everyone. But the possibility of that solidarity must be constructed (or perhaps reconstructed), since Germany, because of the way in which it exercised its hegemony in Europe in the last period, is not well placed to provoke emulation or to raise the contributions of other peoples in this moment. On their sides, other governments, even when they promise their support, do not show any real eagerness to bear their part of the burden or to summon their respective public opinions, if they are not actually playing a double game (like France). What is at risk of happening in the near future, as a repercussion, is bitterness and the discouragement of the German and Austrian citizens who moved to assist refugees.

As new dramas are playing out and brewing on Greek and Italian coasts (as on the routes through the Balkans and the Alps), immediate diplomatic, financial, and humanitarian decisions are needed, and also long term projections that envisage the integration of new arrivals. Instead we are watching a contest of egoisms, plus a cacophony of discourses on ‘border police’ and ‘migratory politics’. It is about time that all those of us who, in each country, understand the importance, the dangers, and the potential of this moment in which we find ourselves – redouble our efforts to establish unity, solidarity, and hospitality in Europe.

 

My thanks to Asher Korner for the translation


[1] In her remarkable press-conference from 31 August 2015.

[2] FAZ, 11-09-2015.

[3] Danièle Lochak 

[4] E. Balibar : « Sujets ou Citoyens ? Pour l’égalité » (1984), réédité dans Les frontières de la démocratie, La Découverte, Paris 1992.

[5] Until now only 19 European States have adopted the ius soli which secures national citizenship for individuals born in the country: see here.  

[6] See for instance Jacques Rupnik : « Migrants : L’autre Europe face à ses contradictions », Le Monde 02.09.2015.

[7] « Das deutsche Wunder », by Josef Joffe, in Die Zeit, n° 37, 12 september 2015.

[8] « EU-Flüchtlingspolitik : Osteuropa hat recht », by Karl-Peter Schwartz, FAZ, 11-09-2015

[9] Giannis Varoufakis : “On German Moral Leadership” – English version of op-ed in Sunday’s FAZ.

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About the author

Etienne Balibar is Emeritus Professor at Paris X Nanterre and Anniversary Chair of Modern European Philosophy at Kingston University, London. He has addressed such questions as European racism, the notion of the border, whether a European citizenship is possible or desirable, violence, identity and emancipation. His books include Reading Capital (with Louis Althusser, New Left Books 1970), Race, Nation, Class (with Immanuel Wallerstein, Verso, 1991), The Philosophy of Marx, Spinoza and Politics, Politics and the Other Scene (Verso, 2002), and We, the People of Europe? Reflections on Transnational Citizenship (Princeton UP, 2004). His latest publications are Equaliberty (Duke UP, 2014); Violence and Civility (Columbia UP, 2015), Citizenship (Polity, 2015) and Europe, crise et fin ? (Edition Le Bord de l’Eau, 2016).


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