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Home » Home Affairs, Policy

When Did We Forget that once We Were all Migrants?

Submitted by on 26 Mar 2013 – 16:47

By Renate Weber MEP, Member, European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs

Over the last 10 years, in part due to the September 11 attacks, the industry focusing on homeland security, which comprises the concept of border security, has expanded dramatically. New systems and technologies have proliferated as the United States, EU Member States and other countries increasingly seek to monitor and control the flow of people and goods across national boundaries.

According to researchers this development has had two effects: one is that states have got access to a variety of new tools that can increase border security effectiveness; the other, more worrisome, is that pretty often we witness a technology-driven policymaking – in other words, the acquisition of tools drive policy rather than the other way around. The result can be a collection of impressive assets which, however, when taken together, lack strategic coherence.[1]

In fact, I dare to say that these days more and more the EU answer to the crisis, which is no longer just economic, but also a social crisis and a crisis of identity and of a vision on its future, is to build all kind of walls, outside and inside.

EU Member States have embraced a regional approach to border security by adopting common standards and moving toward a single, external border. The designated European body to manage and secure EU border with non-EU states is FRONTEX (The European Agency for the Management of Operational Co-operation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union). By design or not, at least in the public eye, and by the resources FRONTEX has allocated, control of illegal migration has become its main goal and activity.

The recently released European ‘smart borders’ initiative aims at supplementing the Schengen Information System (SIS) and the Visa Information System (VIS) by logging movements in and out of the Schengen area (Entry/Exit System) and facilitating fast-track entry for pre-vetted registered travelers (Registered Traveler Programme). However, it is questionable whether “the smart borders approach” is the inevitable outcome of existing EU policies on external border control, migration and visas, considering the track record of these measures and the change in scope, purpose and costs that they have experienced over the past decade.

The ‘smart borders’ system is no longer only and mainly about borders: it involves the surveillance of foreigners travelling to, within and out of the Union. The ‘Entry-Exit System’ will lead to the fingerprinting of all third-country nationals entering the European Union, significantly expanding the EU’s biometric information systems and increasing the amount of personal data accessible to law enforcement and security agencies.

The ‘Registered Traveller Programme’, under which business and other frequent travellers would benefit from faster crossings, will institutionalize a two-tier border control system in the EU based on crude indicators such as wealth, nationality, employer and travel history. In envisaging the gradual replacement of border guards with ‘Automated Border Control’ gates, the planned ‘smart borders’ proposals may also pave the way for increased surveillance of EU citizens, whose movements could easily be recorded and stored in future. Everything for roughly about €1 billion.

The European Border Surveillance System (EUROSUR) is the most ambitious surveillance system ever envisaged by the EU with important implications for the protection of fundamental rights and democratic control. At a time when in Europe austerity reaches new boundaries, the European Commission is willing to spend huge amounts of money in order to build walls around the European Union’s frontiers and, I am afraid, inside its citizens’ minds[2].

Third-country nationals account for almost half of the 300 million people estimated to cross the external borders of the Schengen area every year. While it is often claimed that such persons comprise the largest category of ‘illegal migrants’ in the EU, no accurate statistics exist. In fact what we are witnessing here is a shift not only in shaping legislation but in shaping people’s minds. It is common knowledge by now that current EU legislative proposals aiming at facilitating migration of people is getting more and more difficult to pass. Member States act as if they are under attack by migrants and consequently the EU designs legislation based on an automated decision making processes and using numberless surveillance technologies and military tools, like unmanned drones to watch over our boundaries.

These new policies associated with other data and information systems, contribute to the foreigner – citizen division and lay down the conditions for a proactive monitoring and statistical surveillance of a large number of persons. The principles in question here are also core EU values and one is entitled to ask what happens to fundamental rights such as: the right to privacy, non-discrimination based on nationality, ethnic or racial origins, right and access to effective remedies; even the right to life itself if we think of those 63 people left to starve to death, adrift in the Mediterranean after their distress calls went unanswered for days.

We should remember, however, the common values which brought our Member States together at the very beginning: solidarity, mutual trust and the aim for prosperity. We should build more on these values rather than on boundaries.

Combating criminality and organized crime has been one of the purposes invoked and followed by the EU through strong legislation for a while now. However, statistics have not shown a significant decrease in numbers, unfortunately quite contrary, they seem to have a growing tendency. This should not be a surprise: criminals, and especially transborder criminals, do not need passports, or visas, therefore criminality should be combated by other means. And we should admit that tough entry obstacles are made in fact for people who want to come to the EU to work, to get a decent living, something which would be actually beneficial to the EU as well. However, instead of directing our efforts to create an environment where immigrants would come to replace our aging population, by helping hard-working people, escaping totalitarian regimes or countries where they cannot earn their living, to a more rapid understanding and integration into our culture and system of values, we spend a lot of energy and money considering them as potential delinquents! What a tremendous waist of resources in both the medium and long term!

Of course in the short term there are some “winners”: those who prefer the populist rhetoric or the industry that produces controlling devices and creates the need for them. I cannot help remembering that when I was a child, we, children, used to play with kites. Nowadays, grown-ups play with drones.

We will live surrounded by walls and having each move controlled, but I cannot help wondering how this world would look today if migration had not taken place in the last couple of thousands of years…


[1] (Center for Strategic and International Studies – Border Security in a Time of Transformation http://csis.org/files/publication/100709_Nelson_BorderSecurity_web.pdf)