As the world is being restructured and regime changes are taking place all around the globe, it is not easy to pretend that the EU, a regional integration regime, will remain intact. On the social level, the will of change within the EU is already important, but this will have yet to produce concrete results involving the EU’s political structures. Furthermore, there is also a powerful resistance to change from within the EU, and especially from some of its leaders. Along this, the EU nations’ will isolate themselves from the rest of the world is growing stronger.
Thanks to a common market and the Schengen zone, the EU lifted national borders within the union, reinforcing its external borders instead. Strengthening the external borders was maybe a good idea in the beginning, but this generates many problems today. What is more important is that the Europeans’ demand for isolation is growing as external threats become more palpable. The EU feels a stronger need to protect its internal market, its social composition, its human relationships, even its dress codes and lifestyles, while the world outside the EU tries to modify its own way of life. In other words, the EU is trying to preserve its “Europeanness” while the rest of the world is trying to stop being the “other.”
We can observe social change and resistance to existing regimes in many parts of the world. When these processes are bloody, people who fear being slaughtered try to find safer places. Thus, they try to reach territories that are close and secure, but they cannot find peace there either, as is the case with the Tunisians who migrated to Italy. Their lives were in danger in their own country, but in their new country they are nothing but unwanted refugees.
The ongoing human tragedy in North Africa is of course not only the EU’s problem. What is going on there is too important for the EU to deal with. However, the EU’s desire to isolate makes things harder for those who seek protection within the European continent. Two essential problems have emerged because of this new immigration wave: First, racist and xenophobic sociopolitical movements in Europe have become stronger; and second, this issue has become an important variable of relations between EU members.
It is perhaps possible to stop people before they reach the Italian peninsula, but stopping them at all costs will have political and economic consequences. Nevertheless, if they are all allowed to arrive, taking care of them will have equally important economic and political costs. No one should expect the cost to be shared equally, but Italy really has no option: If the EU is unwilling to see this issue as a common problem, Rome will make sure this matter becomes a problem for all Europeans. As you know, Italy has granted residence permits to some of the refugees, a measure allowing them to travel to all Schengen countries.
Italy’s stance on the refugee problem has sparked real tension between this country and France, as the latter had made the immigration problem a top priority for some time now. France has even decided to close the borders as it perfectly knew that these immigrants, most of whom speak French, will want to come to France rather than stay in Italy. This measure proves that France is unwilling to apply the Schengen Agreement when it comes to dealing with immigrants. The Italian government then declared that if that is the case, why not cancel the Schengen treaty altogether?
This bilateral disagreement will be resolved somehow. However, as long as the EU keeps building walls around it and refuses to adapt to the wind of change blowing just outside its borders, many other crises will follow. But it is hard to predict where Norway will stand when that time comes.