The main goal of the project
BordEUr: New European Borderlands (Erasmus+ Jean Monnet Networks). The project documents and assesses the proliferation of new borders in the aftermath of the EU’s recent crises, with a special emphasis on the so-called migration crisis. The project analyzes the symbolic role of borders in ontological narratives (both EU and MS), as well as the bordering policies that these narratives enable. BordEUr also highlights the role borders play in rightwing populists’ securitizing discourses, and how these discourses can contribute to de-democratization.
Keywords: borders, narratives, ontological security, securitization, populism, migration, externalization
BordEUr: New European Borderlands
Jean Monnet Network
Project framework: Erasmus+ Jean Monnet Networks
Project duration: 09.01.2019-08.31.2022
The European project, built on neoliberal principles, on the one hand advocating integration on the basis of a single market, while on the other hand tolerating and supporting state-centric approaches when it comes to issues of security, presents a curious amalgam of a regional structure, which both removes and imposes borders. It removes internal borders, facilitating the mobility and settlement of Europeans in an ever-enlarging EU space, and imposes new borders that restrict the mobility of non-Europeans. A market governing logic drives the removal of borders, while a still-strong sovereign logic drives the (re)-imposition of borders when the Union is faced with issues that have been highly securitized.
The EU’s multiple crises over the past decade constitute a challenge for both logics of governing borders. Following the economic crisis, the success and legitimacy of the European market making project was brought into question. What little remained of the ‘permissive consensus’ was eroded in many member states as economic hardship and inequality intensified. This crisis created the unpropitious circumstances in which the EU had to deal with a further crisis of governance; namely, the so-called ‘migration crisis’. The migration crisis retriggered already existing crises in the EU (the Eurozone crisis and the crisis of liberal democracy) and exposed deep divides among EU members related to concepts of solidarity and the protection of human rights, in favor of border securitization (internal and external). As a result the EU’s normative power of promoting free market policies, like freedom of movement among its member states, and strengthening liberal democratic and humanitarian values in its periphery were sidelined in exchange for outsourcing the management of migrant flows.
The crises also led to a backlash against the EU as a market maker, a security actor and a promoter of liberal ideals. Such a backlash manifested in growing populism, nationalism and Euroscepticism. In many member states migration was politicized, and even securitized. State reactions to the perceived migration crisis forced the security logic both on the internal and the external dimension: internal borders were rematerialized and free movement was limited, threatening the Schengen system. Likewise, borders were also pushed further outside through externalization of border control to the so-called New Borderlands. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom voted to leave the EU, with the pro-BREXIT narrative largely built on anti-migration sentiment. These political dynamics led to a hardening of the EU’s sovereign governing logic.
“BordEUr: New European Borderlands” documents and assesses the proliferation of new borders in the aftermath of the EU’s crises, which in various ways, were crises of those very borders. We suggest that the refugee and migration issue goes well beyond policy and institutions, and instead instantiates a fundamental uncertainty that faces not just the EU, but liberal democracy in general. This multi-faceted global crisis of capitalism and liberal democracy resulted in a worldwide pushback taking multiple forms, but populism and its European rightwing variant in particular merit. The particular right-wing populist interpretation of European politics (including migration) namely puts the focus squarely back on bordered nation states, away from supranational units. First, only nation states can erect and maintain borders, and second, the threat itself (societal security and terrorism) is also primarily framed on the state level. BordEUr situates the question of (re)emergent borders in the context of this populist pushback against a crisis-ridden liberal democratic status quo by disentangling how populists utilize migration for justifying a return to the Westphalian nation state, and how they create further insecurities to try to establish or maintain their rule.
BordEUr is a collaborative project of scholars from multiple disciplines that is anchored in an interpretivist ontology. Our conceptual point of departure is the theory of ontological security (security of the Self). We argue that the EU, as well as its member states, are engaged in a self-reidentification (through narratives and practices) to mitigate the atmosphere of uncertainty that recent crises brought about. Self-identification is crucial in maintaining stability of the Self, and therefore the ability to act. Borders play a central role in these parallel self-identification processes on the member state and EU levels: they set the limits of the European and national political communities and often explicitly create a threatening Other. Borders are therefore not only physical, but are also symbolic resource that is being used to naturalize hard borders.
Crucially, current European narratives about bordering practices, as well as the practices they enable, frequently clash with progressive EU narratives. They thereby exacerbate ontological insecurity and limiting the Union’s ability to act vis-à-vis its member states and its external partners. This narrative tension also puts the EU at a disadvantage in relation to Euroskeptic, statist populists, whose own national-territorial narratives are far less equivocal. Indeed, nationalistic populism is exceptionally adept at supplying the historical myths and symbols that can create alternative societal beliefs to counter everyday insecurities and thereby further the populist cause. The dramatization of securitized borders and a constantly looming threat of migrants in particular can provide ontological security to the imagined community inside the border, but also to challenge Brussels elites that purportedly threaten these borders.
Borders are deployed as a symbolic resource in the discursive construction of political communities through the process of securitization. Securitization theory focuses on how security threats are politically and socially constructed, rather than on what kinds of security threats objectively exist. By framing an issue in security mode (an existential threat and a point of no return), the securitizing actor elevates it from the confines of democratic politics. A traditional view of security would suggest that security protects democracy. The more security it has, the better a democracy can work. Securitization theory on the other hand holds that the rhetoric associated with security can be more dangerous than the purported threat it seeks to mitigate. Security namely implies the introduction of exceptional measures beyond the realm of normal (democratic) politics and the rule of law. Securitization is therefore quintessentially anti-democratic since it may pave the way for the distortion of democracy into a permanent state of emergency, and everyday state of exception without end. With more global, more diffuse threats like terrorism, the balance often moves towards more security at the expense of the democratic status quo.
Political rhetoric that emphasizes the emergence of new dangers in order to justify more restrictive measures—and thereby more power to the ruler—is an old story. What makes the current crisis unique is the emergence of rightwing populism and its cooptation of securitized discourses. Populists favor what is most often termed minimal or procedural democracy, defined as popular sovereignty and majority rule. Therefore, populism is anti-pluralist and stands in opposition to liberal democracy, most notably minority rights, rule of law, and separation of powers (including and independent judiciary and media). Coupled with the logic of securitization, European rightwing populism is able to mount a fundamental challenge to liberal democracy by 1) referring to the unassailable will of the majority; and 2) maintaining a constant atmosphere of uncertainty through the construction of new threats that in turn is used to legitimize populist rule, and silence criticism. The resulting statist-securitized politics also enables a populist attack on European integration, which embodies liberal values.
BordEUr uses ‘border’ as both a metaphorical and analytical tool to investigates how bordering narratives and practices, working in tandem, feed back into the crisis of the liberal order and liberal Europe: both that of liberal democracy in Europe, and the EU’s foreign policy actorness, which is promoted through the narrative of Normative Power Europe (NPE). The project follows an inductive logic and relies on case studies to identify and investigate practices at pre-existing borders, as well as the emergence of new borders, partly through practices. We aim to explore practices in their multiple forms, and also seek to highlight overlooked practices of bordering beyond states borders.
BordEUr seeks to investigate the following questions
- What meaning do the European Union, its member states and partner states assign to the border and to EU bordering policies?
- How do securitized, populistic discourses about borders contribute to de-democratization processes?
- To what extent does the sense of a European community represent a framework for avoiding the risk that the populist interpretation of EU politics may lead to?
- What are the implications of the European politics of borders for the EU’s identity as an international promoter of liberal democracy? How does a perceived gap between promoted identity and policy practice affect the relationship between the Union and its partners?
In order to these questions, each case study will engage the questions in the context of one of the participating states (The United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Greece and Turkey). Case studies will deal with three distinct, but interconnected levels: 1) local processes of (re)construction of borders in terms of practices (migration and border policy analysis), 2) cognitive representations of the European Union, borders, migration and national identity on the state level (frame analysis of the political discourse), and 3) EU policy and discourse on borders and the international actorness (policy analysis and frame analysis).
As an exploratory research project, BordEUr seeks to become the basis for further research endeavors. First, the project links the toolkit of European Studies, Security Studies and Populism Studies, and thereby contributes to the theorization of current crises in the European Union. Second, data collected under BordEUr can be used to investigate diverse questions, such as
- The variance in securitizing discourses among various brands of European populism (e.g. rightwing vs leftwing; West vs East)
- Further empirical research on the demand side of populism and securitization: how and why do populist politics resonate?
- The use of securitization logics by anti-populist political forces both on the national and the European level (the securitization of populism, populists, and populist-run member states)
- An extensive genealogy of EU crisis narratives