We Need to Be Critical of the EU’s Border Policy since Outsourcing Border Control Does Not Guarantee Respect for Human Rights

Warns Núria Franco-Guillén, Aberystwyth University (Wales) during a lecture at the 2019 Summer School on National Minorities in Border Regions in Berlin.

News / 06.9.19

Traditionally, a border is considered as the physical expression of a boundary that determines the area in which States are sovereign.

Yet, as Etienne Balibar stated at the beginning of the century, ‘the borders of the State are no longer situated at the limits of their territory. They are dispersed everywhere.’

Certainly, when determining the limits of sovereignty, borders set the framework in which a principle of differentiation operates. I am referring to the configuration of multiple modes of inclusion, and exclusion with regards to individuals and the extent to which a set of rights are granted, or not granted by the State.

Border policy, in combination with citizenship policy, are two fundamental tools by which the State determines who is part of the demos, and who is not.

This has an obvious potential as a tool for nation building and national preservation. Among the many ways that borders and citizenship policies can be problematized, I like to point out to two of them:

(1) The management of EU’s external borders, and the implications that border and citizenship managements have vis-a-vis stateless nations or national minorities without a kin state.

While the the Schengen area involved a debordering process that allowed EU citizens to move freely across the different member states, it simultaneously involved a re-bordering process that reinforced the EU’s external borders, leading to the so-called fortress Europe.

The protection and control of EU external borders has led to a process of externalisation that has critical implications with regards to the guarantee and respect of universal fundamental rights.

By means of bilateral and multi-lateral agreements with third countries – and the EU and/or any of its member states – Europe is delegating border control to countries that may not abide by the same rules or standards as the EU, thus leading to serious doubts that people trying to move across EU’s borders are treated in acceptable terms from a liberal, democratic and human rights perspective.

Ultimately, as EU citizens, we have no control over what sort of assistance people retained in detention centres outside the EU are receiving in our name. And we should be vigilant about this.

(2) At an internal level, all laws and policies related to citizenship help determine who belongs and who doesn’t, and the extent to which the State’s residents can exercise the same rights as other nationals. It is only by means of citizenship that political rights and participation can be fully enjoyed and thus, an individual can be considered as part of the demos. This has been historically used by the state in order to select the type of demos it wants or, in other words,  to favour a determined type of nation-building. This is thus critical from the perspective of stateless nations who are, by definition, unable to decide over who joins and in what way. In other words, stateless nations have little or no means of perpetuating among newcomers. The lack of control over these issues is not absolute, and while regions such as Catalonia, Quebec, or Scotland use their power to foster the inclusion of immigrants, it does not prevent conflictivity with the State. For example, diverging – and often more progressive than the State – views over the Alien’s law in the UK, or the refugee policy in Spain, have become (or been turned into) sources of conflictivity between minorities and receiving societies with the Central governement of the State.

Núria Franco-Guillén, Aberystwyth University (Wales) delivered a keynote speech at the 2019 Summer School on National Minorities in Border Regions in Humboldt University in Berlin.

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