“Borders are politicians’ worst invention in history” – said Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission in 2016. Today, the “politics without borders” approach results in a deep crisis of the European Union.
Signs of crisis
We are now witnessing a long-standing overexertion in the international arena. Its direct signs seem to be the end of the Merkel era, a record low support for the French president, and the UK leaving the EU.
The main project of the European Community regarding the prosperity and peaceful coexistence of its residents, can be considered a success. It is difficult to find examples of a happier co-existence of the members of the Old Continent in the history of the modern world. For many years on, since the inception of the EU, the new order of modern Europe seemed to be permanent. Widespread was the attitude pointing to the end of history as we know it. History marked by conflict was to be replaced by the era of soft conciliatory solutions. However, that did not happen.
Utopia displaces the Vision
The founding fathers of the European community had a courageous vision of the unification of the continent. This vision was born as an opposition to and in the aftermath of the horrifying results of the European totalitarianism. It was supposed to protect against a possibility of a repetition of the darkest events that occurred in the twentieth century while guaranteeing societies prosperity and social security. The European Union has never parted with the ambitions of implementing the idea of democracy, and at the same time it wished to reject everything that resembled totalitarianism.
This attitude can be understood by taking into account the direct experience of Western Europeans. For them, totalitarianism was primarily a form of brutal nationalism, racism and imperial ambitions. Alas, the experiences of the Eastern Europeans got forgotten. The category of a nation in the Eastern Block does not have pejorative connotations. It was the preservation of the idea of a national affiliation that allowed the Poles, Czechs, Hungarians or Slovaks to keep their own indigenous identity.
Another area that is treated with high skepticism among the Eastern Europeans are the leftist ideas of their Western counterparts. The Poles and Hungarians for example have experienced the direct and miserable effects of Marxism on their own skin in a very recent past. A widespread slogan “to each according to his needs” in practice translated into empty shop shelves everywhere. “Internationalism” that was promoted was merely a mask of the Soviet imperialism. At the same time the vision of universal peace and prosperity was to take place “already tomorrow”, within reach by simply overcoming the eternal “transitional” difficulties.
Central Europeans fought long enough not to melt in the magma of various empires – from the Habsburg monarchy to the USSR. The state border in the Central European tradition is something almost sacred. It is a proof of the desired independence, not a synonym for unnecessary restrictions. Few want to return to the map with borders from the Cold War era and fewer claim that borders are unnecessary. Perhaps the former Prime Minister of Luxembourg may allow himself to think in this way but not the entire European Community. The vision of a united Europe has not lost its attractiveness, but the utopia of a state without borders, to which all people from all over the world are invited, threatens the very idea of the Community.
Threat to Schengen
The Schengen area has been expanding since 1995. Over 400 million inhabitants can travel freely, change their place of residence, fall in love and do business in almost every EU country without having to pass burdensome passport formalities. It is difficult to imagine a better example of integration and harmonious coexistence of the citizens of the Old Continent. This achievement, however, is in jeopardy and may be wasted by a simple lack of common sense of the EU politicians.
The Schengen Agreement clearly postulated for the strengthening of the Union’s external borders. Italy, Spain, Portugal, and at some point Hungary, despite the assurances of solidarity coming from Brussels, have been often left to themselves. Companies saved tens of millions of dollars a day on the free movement of goods, while at the same time EU countries were reluctant to spend money on the protection of the Mediterranean border.
The sad necessity to set boundaries
Paraphrasing Hegel, one can say that separating the peoples with borders is a “sad necessity”. Abolishing them all, however, will very quickly lead to the creation of many more new ones. If our societies ever face a dilemma: security or open borders, they will no doubt choose the first one. Actually, they already do but not everyone is sober enough to see it.
The Polish original: Wizje i wizy, czyli po co nam granice