Levels of immigration from Africa and Asia look likely to rise to a level where the EU will have difficulty in surviving in its current form. It will either have to abandon freedom of movement within the EU, with member countries reviving their national border controls; or it will have to develop very rapidly into a national state, with strong EU armed forces able to prevent unwanted immigration from outside, at whatever point it appears.
Before the removal of internal controls on freedom of movement, each country defended its own frontiers. Some frontiers are easier to penetrate than others; some countries are better able to prevent unwanted immigration than others; and some countries are more desirable destinations than others. Britain has always been a highly desirable destination; but we are fortunate having an easily-defended frontier – the sea. And until recently, we also had armed forces well able to prevent invasion or unacceptable levels of immigration.
Other countries are less fortunate. In calm summer weather, it’s not difficult to cross a hundred miles or so of the Mediterranean. But Sicily and Greece have not always been very attractive destinations. The countries of Northern Europe and particularly Britain are much more attractive to the peoples of Africa, but many continental frontiers between Britain and Africa made access difficult. Suddenly, the removal of EU internal border controls means that, for an African wanting to settle in Britain, there is no effective barrier between the Italian shore and the UK.
We have yet to feel the full effects of this. At present, refugee status in Italy or Greece does not permit free travel across the EU to Britain. But this barrier is not a very effective one and may not long remain at all. The numbers entering Italy and Greece are more than they can cope with. The two countries could adopt an easy solution – to issue EU passports to the immigrants. Unless more is done to prevent people coming across the Mediterranean, they will have no choice but to adopt this solution. As soon as they do, the movement of peoples from Africa to Europe is likely to accelerate dramatically – all the more dramatically, because the immigrants and those who transport them will know that, one way or another, the barriers are bound to go up again very soon and the opportunity must be seized while it lasts.
Where are the immigrants coming from? The overthrow of the Gaddafi government in Libya has caused chaos. There are undoubtedly more Libyans eager to emigrate than ever before. But informal evidence suggests that many, maybe most of the immigrants crossing the Mediterranean are from further south. It seems likely that the chaos in Libya has removed any obstacle (apart from the Sahara) which would have prevented northward migration from Africa. Chad, south of Libya, is full of refugees from the Sudan. All over central Africa, conflicts are creating refugees. And it would be a mistake to imagine that only refugees in fear of their lives will come. Simple desire for betterment is enough of a motive for migration. Europe, and particularly Northern Europe, and particularly Britain, are highly desirable destinations for millions of the rapidly growing population of Africa. Nobody blames them for wanting to come here. But there are too many Africans for this small island; and the other peoples of crowded northern Europe feel the same.
The EU pretends to be a state. Like real states, the EU now permits free movement of labour within its borders, and the old frontier controls between its members have increasingly been dismantled. But in its external relations, the EU is not a state at all. Unlike a state, it has no system of unified external defence. It has been forgotten, that if the frontiers of the member countries are to come down, a correspondingly strong external frontier has to be asserted and adequately defended by the resources of the whole EU. So the EU has two possible ways forward. Either the full military resources of Europe have to be deployed to defend the frontiers of the EU, wherever a threat may exist to them. (This is, of course, a solution which we in Britain would not accept). Or the frontier barriers within the EU must go up again.
The frontier barriers are already going up again, notably on the Northern frontiers of Italy. But so far, EU passport-holders are allowed to move freely through them. Italy has threatened to solve its congestion problem by issuing passports to the immigrants, so that those (most of them) who want to go on elsewhere can do so. If Italy does this, its neighbours will either have to restrict the entry of EU passport-holders, or to give way to an accelerating flood of African migration. And many of the migrants who successfully enter France will soon appear at Calais.
The immigration crisis comes on top of the economic crisis which is already embittering relations between Germany and Greece and has the potential to embitter relations between Germany and Italy also. Both crises have arisen because of doctrinaire obstinacy on the part of the EU. The EU is now discovering what happens if you arbitrarily impose a single currency and free movement of labour on a geographical area containing many different peoples with differing traditions and no proper external frontiers.