Freedom of movement and residence is one of the cornerstones of European integration. It allows EU citizens to travel and live in any member state as if it was his or her own country. It has torn down institutional, bureaucratic and, most importantly, psychological barriers between nations on the continent.
However, freedom of movement and residence is now in jeopardy, attacked by two powerful and disruptive ideologies: nationalism and Islamism. Paradoxically, despite being based on different principles, these two movements are helping each other to destabilize the European Union.
Islamism propagates religious warfare, dividing people that live in the same communities; nationalists draw not only religious, but also ethnic lines. Islamists use nationalists to convince Muslims that the West is an enemy, while nationalists are all too happy to use Islamism as a weapon to exclude and remove ‘undesirable’ Muslim citizens, so as to restore national homogeneity.
Nationalists also promote Islamophobia for another purpose: to destroy European integration. The European Union, which promotes multiculturalism, diversity and the co-existence of different cultural and ethnic communities, is a thorn in the side of nationalists. They want homogeneity, not diversity. And they will use every means at their disposal to promote their agenda, without publicly admitting what their principles really are for fear of being branded ‘Fascists’ or ‘Nazis’.
One of Europe’s chief nationalist ideologues, Nigel Farage, has always been against political integration as well as immigration. As far back as 2007, Farage said in an interview that his aim was to take every opportunity “to halt things [in the EU], delay things, slow the integration process down.” He also stated that he opposed unrestricted immigration to the UK:
I feel less secure because we [the UK] abolished embarkation controls in 1994, I feel less secure because we now, irresponsibly, have an open door to the whole of eastern Europe. And we’re saying that as many millions of you that want to come can: I opposed that policy, predicting that if you have free movement of people with vastly differing GDPs, it would lead to a vastly differing flow.
As we can see, he associated his subjective sense of ‘insecurity’ with the ‘flow’ of immigrants from eastern Europe. Fear is one of Farage’s central themes. But if fear of eastern Europeans might have been difficult to capitalize on, Islamophobia enjoys more widespread support. Farage never fails to emphasize the threat of Islamist terrorism so as to promote his anti-EU agenda. Fear of terror is, as former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani inadvertently suggested, easier to rationalize than religious, racial or cultural intolerance.
In 2014 Farage rightly predicted that the UK would leave the EU if the issue of free movement was not addressed. In passing he also denied the existence of a “European people”, a proof that the main issue for him was not safety, but national homogeneity. It is clear that his views were appealing to more people than the EU establishment realized at the time. Given his ideological stance, it is not surprising that Farage has repeatedly exploited Islamist attacks for political purposes.
In December 2016 Anis Amri, a rejected Tunisian asylum seeker, launched a deadly terrorist attack in Berlin and then travelled via France to Italy, where he was shot by Italian police during a routine inspection.
Farage used the incident as an opportunity to lambaste freedom of movement within Europe. “If the man shot in Milan is the Berlin killer,” Farage tweeted, “then the Schengen Area is proven to be a risk to public safety. It must go.”
As we have shown, however, Farage’s opposition to free movement far predates Islamist terror attacks in Europe that were related to free movement. In a radio interview from late January 2017, Farage stated that “good fences do make good neighbours”.
Other far-right European leaders, too, have expressed similar views. France’s Marine Le Pen described free movement as “madness”. Italy’s Matteo Salvini said after the Berlin attacks that Schengen must be renegotiated. Germany’s Frauke Petry argued that borders “must be closed”.
The threat of Islamist terrorism seems indeed to be a rational argument against free movement. If one allows asylum seekers or immigrants to move freely, it is much harder, if not impossible, to stop terrorists from travelling across Europe unhindered.
But let us not be fooled by such rhetoric. Nationalists are not concerned about people’s safety. If they were, they would try to find a wide range of solutions for the issues of crime and terrorism. Instead, their response to every single problem is always more nationalism. Let us for example consider the issue of free movement and how it might help terrorists or criminals.
It is absolutely legitimate for citizens to be worried about their personal safety. But is it necessary to reintroduce border control or to break up the European Union in order to achieve this goal? Or are there alternatives? I believe that there are alternatives, and that they should be explored in a serious and rational debate. I will now suggest three alternatives which I believe could enhance public safety and reduce the threat of terrorism.
The first alternative would be to set up a European border police, which could effectively handle illegal immigration, and to establish a European intelligence agency for the exchange of information relating to people suspected of having extremist views.
Second, it would be necessary to reconsider asylum policies, because they have been made outdated by Islamist infiltration. Strict vetting before admission would be a way to prevent extremists from reaching the EU.
The third solution would be more radical and affect EU citizens’ daily life. Europe needs to introduce an airport-like system of ID and passport control for land and sea travel. When we buy air tickets we need to provide our personal details, and when we go to airports we must show our ID or passport. We take this for granted both in domestic and international flights. It should be made mandatory for all private and public transportation companies, including railway and bus companies, to require the ID registration of individuals who purchase tickets, and to check these details on board. A European-wide database collecting travellers’ information should be set up. In this way, even if illegal immigrants managed to enter the EU illegally, they wouldn’t be able to travel far, and they would be easier to monitor. While such measures would make travel more cumbersome, they would allow improved safety without harming the EU and disrupting freedom of movement, work and residence.
If we want to prevent nationalists from hijacking public opinion in order to advance their agenda, we must be open-minded, find new and creative practical solutions to address legitimate citizens’ concerns.
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