The current migratory crisis and the Lampedusa tragedy should remind anyone who has forgotten one of the major, deliberate shortcomings of the European project: the stubborn refusal of the founding fathers to define borders, and to give themselves the means to enforce them.

When the construction of Europe began, the dependence of most of the continent’s countries on the United States, and the ideological domination of the most liberal parties, led to the refusal to set up a common external tariff, leaving this large, ever-expanding market open to all predators from across the Atlantic. Moreover, internal competition became the absolute rule, making it impossible for European companies to group together to reach the size needed to resist their American predators. For example, European competition rules prohibit European telecoms companies from grouping together, leaving some 50 European operators to face five American ones. Today, even if a few protective measures are emerging to defend our digital data, the European industry remains ultra-divided, under the pretext of competition; it is, more than ever, threatened with destruction by American investors who come to buy up its flagships, and by Chinese companies, who come to compete unfairly with its products, free of customs duties. If we carry on like this, our entire industry will very soon disappear. Starting with our textile and automotive industries. And we will continue to be invaded by goods manufactured in violation of every social, health and environmental rule.

What’s more, the dynamics of enlargement, which took us from six to 28 member countries, made it illusory to set overly explicit borders. And there’s more to come: more than ten countries are still candidates to join the Union. How can we define Europe’s borders, when we’re talking about admitting Georgia and Armenia, which undoubtedly have legitimate reasons to hope for membership?

Finally, American insistence on maintaining, through NATO, their total control over the continent’s defense, prevented Europeans from realizing the need to defend themselves: no borders, no army. No army, no borders.

It was only by controlling the free movement of people and implementing the Schengen agreements that we were able, in 2004, to create a tiny European border and coast guard agency, initially a mere coordinating body for national customs administrations, which became Frontex in 2016. Since then, Frontex has grown a little; but it remains ridiculously small compared to the needs (it now brings together 1,500 people, 1,000 of whom are seconded by member countries). And, unfortunately, it employs them in a way that is often disgraceful from the point of view of refugees’ rights, in particular by keeping them in abominable camps in Greece and Bulgaria, and by being guilty of scandalous connivance with Turkish and Libyan mafia groups.

Europe then finds itself deprived of all the means of sovereignty: no army, no industry, no protection against illegal immigration. And if we carry on like this, the far-right parties will have no trouble explaining that control of the Union’s internal and external borders must be handed back to the police forces of each country. And that would be the end of the European project. Yet what is happening in Italy should show that a far-right government can do nothing about the arrival of illegal migrants without the support of its European partners.

As long as the ideology of open competition dominates, Europeans will not be able to protect themselves economically, ecologically, socially or militarily, nor will they be able to manage the arrival of illegal migrants in a way that respects human rights. Nor will they be able to assert their ethical specificity, or remain welcoming to the victims of the world’s dictatorships.

At a time when the European Parliament, still under the ideological control of the liberals, is debating a text on immigration, we would have liked to see it show the same zeal to set up genuine customs protection at the Union’s borders, to deduce from this a genuine industrial and ecological policy, and to give itself the means to build a common customs administration, police force and army. We’re a long way from that.

Image: Migrants waiting for help from the Red Cross on Lampedusa Island, September 14, 2023. (Alessandro Serranò/AFP).