Securitized in Solidarity: How Germany Exploited the Arab Spring To Normalize Schengen Border Externalization

Protest Aden Arab Spring 2011

Winter Issue 2019

Written by: Allison Meakem, Brown University

Introduction

During the so-called “refugee crisis” of 2015, German Chancellor Angela Merkel received global praise for her decision to open Germany’s borders to over 1.1 million migrants and asylum-seekers, becoming an anomaly among European and world leaders.[1] Her “wir schaffen das” (we can do this) attitude was extolled as a rare political expression of moral imperative amidst rising xenophobia and nationalism across the continent. Time magazine went so far as to name the Chancellor its person of the year, leaving no doubts as to the publication’s persuasions in its characterization of Merkel’s move as “the most generous, openhearted [political] gesture of recent history.”[2] Such an unrelentingly laudatory statement—over the top and flowery—forfeits nearly all of its credibility through its boisterous language; even more worrisome, perhaps, is the sheer naïveté embedded therein. Accounts such as Time’s fail to capture the scope of the migration issue in German and European politics—in both the literal and figurative extents of the word.

The year 2015 became a locus of migration in the international imagination—not because it introduced the issue of migration to Europe, but because it represented a new type of migrant arriving on its shores. Since the turn of the century, the European Union (EU) has consistently reckoned with a steady flow of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, who typically land in Italy or Spain after cross the Mediterranean by boat. In 2015, however, Greece became migrants’ preferred point of entry into the EU as arrivals from the Middle East—largely driven by the carnage of the Syrian Civil War—dwarfed those from Africa nearly fivefold. This peak was short-lived: as of September 2018, Greece had received only 20,760 asylum applications, a stark decrease from the over 800,000 filed just three years prior. Italy, by contrast, continues to consistently see well over 100,000 migrants arrive at its southern ports annually—a whopping 67% of the EU total.[3]

Thus, Angela Merkel’s celebrated Willkommenskultur (culture of hospitality)—which she has so eagerly promoted over the past three years—is a far cry from the intersectional political plea it has been presented as. For, despite what seems to be an admirable call to action, this warm welcome is only directed at one type of migrant: the white, educated Middle Eastern war refugee. During the same months she was seen posing for selfies with Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Berlin—hailed as a welcoming, benevolent leader—Angela Merkel also bluntly claimed in less flashy contexts that “those who come to [Germany] for economic reasons may not stay”—a tacit jab at the stream of migrants from Africa that, historically, has been a far more consistent presence in the realm of European immigration.[4]

Time’s lengthy report creates an illusion that Germany opened its doors to all in 2015, completely neglecting a massive demographic that was, and continues to be, excluded—before, during, and after the “refugee crisis.” But the media seems to simply be following politics’ lead: not only are African migrants’ plight and humanity eschewed by European leaders, Europe’s fortification of the African continent—a vestige of colonialism reinforced over the past two decades—has been legitimized by the humanitarian discourse fueling traditionally non-interventionist Germany’s far more recent engagement in the endeavor. Berlin’s reputation as an efficient, swift actor has in turn allowed North Africa to become more securitized than ever.[5]

In this paper, I argue that the Arab Spring provided an avenue through which the EU could tie its migration management programs to the cause of democratization rather than residual colonial relationships, thereby allowing these initiatives to proliferate by taking on an explicitly humanitarian angle. Paradoxically, however, this positively-spun, rebranded approach has only hastened and broadened participation of EU member states in the border externalization of the Schengen area.[6] The case of Germany’s heightened involvement in North Africa following the toppling of Hosni Mubarak in February 2011 and the inauguration of the third Merkel Cabinet in 2014 demonstrates that the EU’s attempt to tie migration politics to humanitarian development initiatives may only be furthering the very securitized apparatus that Europe’s post-revolution involvement in the Arab world ostensibly sought to dismantle.

Migration Policy in the EU: An Overview

The stark disparities in how the EU regards migrants of Middle Eastern versus sub-Saharan African origin cannot be explained without analyzing the dialectical differences between the terms “refugee” and “migrant” in the modern political context. Though academics largely eschew such typologies—claiming that refugees are a subset of migrants, a group to which all who move or travel, regardless of impetus, belong—politicians take an opposite approach, regarding the two as non-intersecting groups—one legitimate and the other illicit. This distinction can best be captured by the role of agency: refugees are forced to flee, while migrants choose to leave.[7] The engagement of the state, too, is crucial: though the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) guarantees the right to seek asylum, it does not compel any state to ultimately grant it.[8] Refugees, in this sense, are recognized—having been awarded asylum by a state, their quandary is affirmed; migrants, on the other hand, merely self-prescribe.

African migrants across Germany and the EU at large have increasingly been labeled by authorities as economic migrants rather than “real” refugees. This derogatory classification implies that economic exploitation is no match for political persecution, failing to see how the two are oft interconnected. While from a purely logistical standpoint such distinctions may seem necessary (it is arguably fair for a bureaucratic apparatus to ask what someone is fleeing—for statistical reasons if nothing else), the emergence of a hierarchical ranking of grievances demonstrates that other factors are at play. A quick Google search of the term “economic migrants”—in both English and German—reveals a host of articles offering clarification as to the term’s meaning vis-à-vis that of “refugee,” most of which were published in 2015 or later.[9] This timing is curious—and revealing: in a break from historically stringent immigration policy, European officials felt compelled to justify their normative lapse—a sudden welcoming of white, versus a historically chronic rejection of black, migrants—with a new lexicon and the re-emergence of jaded vocabulary.[10]

Comprehensive European immigration policy first originated alongside the creation of the Schengen area. Though established relatively recently—in 1985—the impetus for the space can be traced back to the wake of WWII. In the postwar period, most European politicians believed that the establishment of a system of economic—and, by association, political—interdependence was necessary to prevent the outbreak of further conflict on a continent ravaged by immense internal strife. Through this imperative emerged the European Coal and Steel Community (EC) in 1950—comprised of Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. Seven years later, the EC morphed into the European Economic Community (EEC) via the Treaty of Rome, creating the “common market” that exists to this day.[11]

As time passed and EEC membership grew, the free movement of goods gave way to calls for the free movement of people, too, across the European continent. During the 1970s, the small Benelux region (including Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg) developed its own passport-free area; ample trade with Germany and France soon piqued these states’ interests in joining as well. In 1985, the Schengen Agreement was signed in Luxembourg, creating the eponymous zone amongst the aforementioned nations. Importantly, implementation was not set to occur immediately; with a single external border on the definite horizon, however, EEC states mobilized to adjust their immigration policies accordingly.[12]

Since 1985, there has been a measurable decrease among Schengen states in visas granted to citizens of developing countries, even as applicant numbers have risen. Notably, this statistic extends to all “categories” of migrants—“skilled” and “unskilled” alike.[13] States, it seems, were anticipating the lack of agency they might soon have over their frontiers; given this nebulous foresight, they sought to prepare for full relinquishment of border sovereignty. To a certain extent, the skepticism fueling increasingly strict immigration policy proved reasonable; in the initial period following the Schengen Agreement, participating countries attempted to create a borderless space exclusively for their own citizens, meaning that internal passport controls would still be necessary for all non-Western Europeans. This (preferred) proposal quickly proved unrealistic and, after the Schengen Convention was signed in 1990, the Schengen area became a reality in 1995, creating an internally borderless European space for all privileged enough to have gained entry.[14]

Today, the Schengen area has grown from an initial five members to 30—encompassing most of continental Europe.[15] Management of the space has fallen to the EU, which was formally established in 1993 with the Maastricht Treaty.[16] The growth of the EU has both simplified and complicated matters with regards to immigration: for one, the presence of a cohesive governing body has allowed the streamlining and development of comprehensive and uniform immigration policy; at the same time, however, the EU’s vast means and ample resources have allowed this policy and its enforcement to become more stringent, exclusive, and militarized than ever before.

For migrants, too, the establishment of the Schengen area has changed the game, shifting migratory routes and drastically altering patterns of movement. Prior to Spain’s accession to the Schengen Agreement in 1986, for example, the North African Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla were generally not considered transit spaces, featuring relatively permeable borders and little migratory activity.[17] The reality today could not be more different: both territories are guarded by razor-wire-topped, 20 foot-tall double fences—structures erected in 2000 that are sometimes stormed by hundreds of migrants a day.[18] As of late August, over 3,100 migrants had successfully entered Ceuta and Melilla in 2018 alone.[19] In short, the establishment of the Schengen area transformed these provinces from once-lackluster colonial remnants to massively fortified emblems of European border externalization and exclusivity.

Regretfully, Ceuta and Melilla have proven to be far more the norm than the exception in the European border space. While the initial years following the establishment of the Schengen area were marked predominantly by an uptick in “soft” restrictions on immigration—such as more ironclad consular policies—the turn of the century was characterized by a dramatic shift towards an inhumane, securitized apparatus. The 1999 European Council Summit in Tampere is, to this day, likely the most consequential historical event in the development of a fortified Europe. It was in this small Finnish city that the concept of “border externalization” was not only explicitly developed and defined, but also endorsed as official policy by the EU. This notion of “shifting bordering practices from territorial lines and checkpoints to a more fluid landscape” furthermore became institutionally enshrined in the Council’s new High-Level Working Group on Asylum and Migration (HLWG).[20] A proposed first plan of action was the transformation of Morocco into a so-called “buffer zone.”[21]

Tampere was not only significant for its development of the fundamental ideology underlying European migration policy regarding North Africa. It also represented the first attempt to move from a host of disorganized, bilateral agreements between EU members states and “third countries” to a guiding, multilateral pan-Schengen border strategy that would maintain and hold sturdy the newly-established single external European boundary. This was largely driven by Madrid’s grievances: throughout the 1990s, Spain had borne the brunt of European migration—forced to wrestle alone with North African transit states in the development of mutually-agreeable bilateral agreements upon which the entire EU depended. In 1992, Spain and Morocco signed the Spain-Morocco Readmission Agreement, which stipulated that Morocco was obliged to repatriate any migrants who had entered Spain illegally by traversing its territory.[22] The sudden 1994 closure of the Algerian-Moroccan border (which persists to this day) served to bottleneck trans-Saharan migratory routes and burden Morocco—and, by consequence, Spain—even further.[23]

A year later, the Barcelona Negotiations (which launched the cross-border “Barcelona Dialogue,” a Mediterranean co-operative) allowed Spain and other southern European actors laden by migration to voice their frustrations with the far idler north. Germany in particular was accused of hypocrisy and taking advantage of Spanish interventionist efforts for its own benefit, security, and economic prosperity—all while preaching a foreign policy of restraint.[24] Amidst this discord, Tampere seemed necessary to create a unified European path forward. 

Creating this “unified path,” however, has not come without serious bumps in the road. The establishment of bilateral agreements—balancing the interests of two states—is difficult enough; needing to address the demands of all EU member states and coalesce them into one cohesive appeal prior to even beginning negotiations with “third countries” has proven nearly impossible. This tricky decision-making structure has come to be classified as a “three-level game,” a typology which holds that EU actors’ domestic interests are central to broad EU policymaking: seeking to maintain high domestic approval ratings, actors nearly always attempt to keep their state’s involvement in EU-wide initiatives at a minimum.[25] With such a mindset, mutual efforts become all the more challenging, as each state is very limited in what it will give, but incredibly demanding in what it wishes to gain. Complicating matters is the nature of EU migration policy: given that partnerships are voluntary, the cost of abstention is high for all members involved. For this reason, cooperation has become paramount but standards have simultaneously reached rock-bottom.[26]

EU Migration Policy Before 2011: Residual Colonialism

As if the approach developed at Tampere had not securitized the Mediterranean region enough, the emergence of international terror onto the public radar in the early 21st Century served only to further militarize an already aggressive European border policy. As promised by Tampere’s commitment to transform Morocco into a “buffer zone,” the year 2000 redefined the Spanish-Moroccan border in North Africa.[27] In what has become somewhat of a chicken-and-egg scenario, rapid increases in illicit border crossings into Ceuta and Melilla precipitated the construction of more aggressive fences and securitized apparatuses around the enclaves.[28] But the heightened exclusivity of these areas (and growing richesse of the EU) seemed only to tempt migrants further, prompting demands for a multilateral EU approach to ease Madrid’s burden.[29]

Expanding on Spain’s existing bilateral re-admission agreement with Morocco, the EU in 2000 signed the Cotonou Agreement with the Africa, Caribbean, and Pacific Group of States (ACP). Quite consequentially, Article 13(5) of the treaty stipulated that all PAC states were required to readmit their own nationals who had entered the EU without proper paperwork. [30] In one fell swoop, an arrangement that had formerly only applied to two Mediterranean actors suddenly encompassed two whole continents.

To be sure, this drastic resolution did not pass through the bureaucratic halls of Brussels without prompting popular outrage. A series of anti-racist movements launched in Germany in 2000 harshly condemned the development of what protesters began referring to as “Fortress Europe.”[31] The re-emergence of this militant term—used colloquially by the Allied powers to describe Nazi-occupied Europe during the Second World War—served as an exceptionally harsh rebuke of EU asylum policy in the context of the newly-externalized single border.[32] Rather than focus on guaranteeing safe passage to those in need, demonstrators argued, EU asylum policy had become chiefly preoccupied with preemptive exclusion.[33] Some scholars have conceptualized “Fortress Europe” as a “gated community.”[34] 

Popular support for the Anti-“Fortress Europe” movement, which had quickly spread across the EU in its advocacy for humane immigration politics, became drowned out by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. 9/11 had an immediate effect on European policy, tightening restrictions on visas and immigration while securitizing border spaces such as air- and sea-ports.[35] Most significantly, however, 9/11 allowed for a fundamental shift in the theoretical framing of migration policy as a whole. Since the attacks, “immigration”—in both global and European discourse—has come to be defined as a security issue, presupposing that migrants are a threat to dubious notions of “national security.”[36]

The 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam, which served to amend the 1993 Maastricht Treaty, had explicitly defined EU migration policy as liberal regulation of movement underscored by the desire to “prevent and combat crime.”[37] Just four years later, however, the securitized approach birthed by 9/11 transformed “immigration policy” into euphemistic terror prevention. The 2004 Madrid train bombings and the 2005 London suicide attacks, which killed 191 and 52 people, respectively, only further rationalized this approach.[38] In 2005, the Prüm Convention established a system for the exchange of security-related data between Germany, France, Spain, the Benelux states, and Austria with the explicitly-defined purpose of “fighting crime and terrorism.”[39] The addendum of terror prevention to what one might call the EU’s “mission statement” was a mark of the times that would fundamentally alter European border policy for perpetuity. Latent xenophobia—regarding the “other” as dangerous—had found a vindicating political force in Brussels.

The year 2005 also marked the establishment of the Global Approach to Migration and Mobility (GAMM), the EU’s most comprehensive migration initiative to date.[40] GAMM has four goals: to promote legal migration, combat human trafficking, develop a streamlined asylum policy, and emphasize international development. Perhaps most notably, GAMM opened the door for joint policing operations between EU states and transit countries.[41] The following year, in 2006, the Rabat Process was launched as an ongoing dialogue between more than 60 parties in Europe and Africa on migration that would play a crucial role in the development of future immigration policy.[42]

Though European immigration policy certainly became more draconian in the early years of the 21st Century, participation and policy development were still heavily bent on the classic Mediterranean actors of Spain, Italy, and France—all of whom had colonial ties to North Africa. A century ago, what is now Northern Morocco was Spanish territory (evidenced by Spain’s continued presence in Ceuta and Melilla), modern-day Libya was run under Italy’s behest, and today’s states of Tunisia and Algeria fell under French control. The French mandate in West Africa also extended into sub-Saharan regions, or “origin states” in EU-speak.[43] It is unsurprising, then, that each former colonial power guided EU-wide negotiations with its respective “transit states,” over which they still had—and continue to have—undue political, cultural, and linguistic influence.

It is worth noting, however, that Spain in 2002 began extraditing migrants from sub-Saharan Africa to Morocco without due process.[44] This disturbing trend was a harsh departure from the legal frameworks of the existing 2000 Cotonou Agreement, which stipulated that African countries were required to readmit their own nationals who had found their way into Europe illegally (and presumably after having undergone a fair trial)—not that they were required to admit nationals of other states.[45]

Europe has largely turned a blind eye to the fate of migrants once apprehended—a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach. Since the border with Algeria was closed in 1994, Moroccan authorities have increasingly cracked down on sub-Saharan migrants, expelling them into the Sahara Desert at Oujda, a clandestine but militarized locale along the Algerian frontier.[46] In short, Spain’s dubious endeavor in 2002 set forth a precedent of illegitimate deportations and tacit moral and physical erosion of asylum-seekers from the EU that persists to this day. North African leaders were—and are—generally complicit in the affair due to their enduring history of cooperation with and capitulation to colonial powers.[47]

Italy’s post-colonial partnership with Libya likely reached its most worrisome peak under Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who governed the country from 2008 to 2011. Berlusconi, known for his theatrics and controversial politics, largely normalized the brutal regime of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi after the EU embargo on Libya was lifted in 2008—quickly becoming its largest importer of crude oil. Antics were often overblown: Berlusconi never failed to name Gaddafi a “guest of honor” during his numerous visits to Rome, and at one point even kissed his hand.[48] Perhaps most emblematic of the two leaders’ close relationship, though, was the establishment of joint Italian-Libyan police-patrol operations in the Mediterranean in 2008: Gaddafi cracked down on illicit migration from his ports with an iron fist.[49] Now, of course, things look markedly different: Gaddafi was ousted and assassinated in 2011 and Libya exists in a state of chaos, deemed unfit for international cooperation of any kind—only the first example of how the Arab Spring fundamentally altered the Mediterranean’s migratory framework.[50]

France’s vast colonial ties to greater West Africa have allowed it to engage not only with North African “transit states,” but also sub-Saharan “origin states” such as Senegal. Fundamental to cooperation between the EU and third countries has been the promise of visa liberalization for nationals of the state at hand.[51] Historically, though, France has applied this easing only to those migrants whom it considers to be “skilled,” prompting great frustration with Senegalese authorities. During talks for the accord de gestion concertée des flux migratoires in 2006, which established an accompanying worker exchange program for skilled laborers, Dakar expressed its discontent with what it perceived to be an imposed “brain drain” by Paris.[52] The agreement crumbled after only two years.[53]

In a stunning rebuke of France’s perceived entitlement to West Africa, Senegal in 2006 signed a memorandum with Spain, openly stating that Dakar much preferred working with Madrid than with its former colonizer. Spain, Senegalese authorities claimed, had a much larger labor market for unskilled workers, even providing language and orientation programs for sub-Saharan migrants. As part of the agreement, Senegal would send 4,000 migrant workers to Spain in exchange for the extradition of 4,000 illicit Senegalese migrants from the EU. Moreover, the EU’s Frontex patrol boats would now be permitted to surveil Senegalese waters.[54] What had seemed so difficult to accomplish with France came with considerably more ease when working with a power that was not one’s former oppressoremblematic of the slow erosion of the default colonial arrangements that had characterized EU migration policy and its securitization of the Schengen area through the first decade of the 21st Century. Bilateral relationships defined more by trust and less by power seemed to be the path of least resistance and greatest efficacy forward for the EU.

Throughout all of this—as Spain, Italy, and France all but autonomously developed a migration approach for the entire EU—Germany, the Netherlands, and many northern European countries were considered “free-riders.” As European immigration politics became more and more explicitly neocolonialist—epitomized by Berlusconi’s tenure—it also seemed less and less legitimate, eliciting more policy failures and fewer gains. When the Arab Spring began in December 2010, calls for democratization had overcome the region, jeopardizing the future of the very regimes with which the EU was collaborating.[55]

All EU member states knew that European immigration policy was inelegant and in dire need of reform, but Northern Europe in no way wanted to be a part of such a revision.[56] Despite being Europe’s largest and most populous economy, the German government withheld itself from making any bold assertions in the realm of immigration, particularly as it pertained to the North African operations from which it was quietly profiting. Instead, policymakers in Berlin preferred to hide behind the mantle of Germany’s activist population—which had coined the term “Fortress Europe” and, through its own lived experience, campaigned against the creation of walls and the division of peoples.

Until very recently, German foreign policy in the postwar period has been characterized by the strict doctrine of Zurückhaltung, or non-intervention—largely fueled by Germany’s very serious commitment to historical atonement and its widespread “never again” mantra.[57] In addition to immense skepticism vis-à-vis uninvited involvement abroad, Zurückhaltung is deeply opposed to German military force and deployment.[58] With regards to the securitized, increasingly militant European border externalization policy of the early 21st Century, Germany was most comfortable being a silent bystander to its southern neighbors’ questionable practices in North Africa. Berlin conveniently turned a blind eye to these actions—but would soon become ensnared therein as well.

EU Migration Policy Since 2011: Germany’s “Humanitarian” Legitimation 

Prior to the Arab Spring, Germany’s only measurable engagement in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region had been its relationship to Israel. In 1952, German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion signed an agreement in which Germany agreed to pay over 3.5 billion marks in reparations to the Israeli state as part of its post-war Wiedergutmachung, or attempt to correct past wrongs.[59] Foreign policy elsewhere in the region was tepid at best, including little more than the standard embassies, consulates, and development aid—certainly not a priority of Berlin’s.[60]

Though complicit in its EU peers’ involvement with North African autocrats, pre-2011 Germany had always taken a back seat in European collaboration efforts in the realm of migration—uncharacteristic and unassuming behavior markedly different from its otherwise vocal, managerial presence in Brussels. Even as the Arab Spring began on the streets of Tunis in December 2010, Germany remained coy.[61] When Egyptian protests resulted in Hosni Mubarak’s fall from power on February 11, 2011, however, Berlin finally decided to speak up—officially endorsing demonstrators’ pleas for justice and democracy in the Middle East. [62]

Any semblance of a European consensus on how to respond to the massive cultural and political changes in North Africa, however, definitively eroded a month later with the United Nations Security Council’s (UNSC) resolution authorizing the use of force and application of the principle of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) in Libya.[63] Germany, sticking to its non-interventionist framework, had fiercely opposed the move, and was particularly angry at France for its support thereof. The head of the Social Democratic Party’s (SPD) faction in the Bundestag (German parliament), Frank-Walter Steinmeier, went so far as to claim that he had “never seen a decision about a military intervention by the international community that was so motivated and driven by the national interests of one state, [namely France].”[64]

As the Arab Spring progressed, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle largely assumed an autonomous role—separate from the discord in Brussels—demanding that Germany reform its Mediterranean politics. Westerwelle, who served in the second Merkel Cabinet from 2009 to 2013 and was the first openly gay man to hold the position, had a personal interest in the promotion of democratization and human rights.[65] He focused on the establishment of civil society programs and initiatives between Germany and emerging Arab democracies, while his membership in the economically liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) simultaneously informed a desire to open the EU’s markets with North Africa. Westerwelle was the first foreign dignitary to visit post-Ben Ali Tunisia and post-Mubarak Egypt on the 13th and 24th of February 2011, respectively—foreshadowing the major role Germany would soon play in the region.[66]

It is unsurprising, then, that Germany’s foci in the “transit states” of North Africa have become Egypt and Tunisia. Not long after Westerwelle’s historically unprecedented visits to Tunis and Cairo, German civil society organizations began cropping up in both countries. In addition to the pledged amount of 100 million euros for Egypt and Tunisia earmarked in Germany’s 2012 and 2013 federal budgets—labeled explicitly as money that would be spent in pursuit of “democracy promotion, education, economic assistance, and civil society”—storied German political foundations began proliferating in North Africa as well.[67] Though the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung—the political foundations of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and SPD, respectively—had opened offices in Cairo and Tunis in the late 20th Century, the aftermath of the Arab Spring marked a fundamental shift in their agendas. Since 2012, for example, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation’s Cairo branch has committed itself to the “regional and national establishment of a network of young leaders”—explicitly tying itself (and thereby mainstream German politics) to democratization in Egypt.[68]

By May of 2011, Germany and France looked past their differences with regards to Libya and created the Deauville Partnership through the then-G8 (now the G7) and the Middle East and North Africa Transition Fund.[69] The agreement established networks of loans and development funds to MENA states in pursuit of two goals: the strengthening of governance and bolstering of economic growth in the region.[70] As of December 2018, over $56 billion and $53 billion have been pledged to Egypt and Tunisia, respectively.[71] Like most of Germany’s development aid, there are very strict conditions attached to Deauville funds. Interestingly enough, however, this has not seemed to bother North African states: though Germany does have a colonial past in sub-Saharan Africa, it did not colonize the Arab world and thus has little history in the region.[72] Moreover, Germany’s status as a revered and responsible economic powerhouse has proved alluring to states previously intertwined with the fickler finances of southern Europe.[73]

Germany’s financial incursions into North Africa in the aftermath of the Arab Spring demonstrated that the country was shedding its traditional hesitance in favor of experimenting with a more assertive international presence. Its leadership in the region allowed Germany to become the second-largest donor in MENA development aid after the United States.[74] Though Germany’s economic engagement in North Africa during Angela Merkel’s second term as Chancellor—which concluded in 2013—was relatively uncontroversial, it arguably paved the way for the much more questionable, increasingly militarized involvement that would be introduced come January 2014 and the inauguration of the third Merkel Cabinet.

Though Angela Merkel retained her position as Chancellor, the 2013 German federal elections largely proved to be a watershed moment in German politics, shifting the governing coalition from the more rightward-leaning leadership of the CDU and FDP to the centrist “grand coalition” comprised of the CDU and SPD.[75] The new cabinet, particularly the new Foreign Minister Steinmeier (SPD) and Minister of Defense Ursula von der Leyen (CDU), articulated their desire for Germany to emphatically embrace its increasingly important role on the global stage and demanded that the government bid goodbye to Zurückhaltung.[76]

Steinmeier and von der Leyen’s wish soon became reality: on January 31, 2014, German President Joachim Gauck issued a rare political plea in his largely ceremonial role, calling for the official end of Zurückhaltung in a now-famous speech delivered at the Munich Security Conference. 70 years after the Holocaust, Gauck claimed, Germany was using its policy of non-intervention and historical shame to “shun responsibility” and “privilege itself” rather than employing its ample resources to spur meaningful change throughout the world.[77] In envisioning an end to Zurückhaltung, Gauck articulated his desire for Germany to become an important player not only in “civil” endeavors, but also securitization efforts worldwide.[78] As one of its first actions responding to Gauck’s demand, Germany increased its military presence in the United Nations’ (UN) Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).[79]

Berlin’s 180-degree policy maneuver was well-timed. 2014 also marked Italy’s assumption of the European Council presidency, which gave Rome ample discretion in determining the EU’s political priorities. Though Berlusconi no longer sat at its helm, Italy—historically overburdened by migrants compared to its EU peers—vowed to make border externalization the Council’s focus.[80] Coupled with Germany’s experimentation with interventionism, this political imperative drastically increased the European presence in North Africa and served to legitimize the GAMM as well as the flawed humanitarian initiatives run under its behest.

The Khartoum Process is one such measure. Launched in 2014 as a purported effort between the EU and the African Union (AU) to combat human trafficking in the Horn of Africa, it has instead been marred by power asymmetries and allegations of inefficacy.[81] Since 2016, the Khartoum Process has been guided by the Better Migration Management program (BMM), which is managed by the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ). Critics claim the GAMM and BAM do little more than “combat symptoms” of irregular migration through projects that fail to effectively promote capacity-building and rely on repressive regimes as partners.[82] If these humanitarian agendas were truly intent on eradicating suffering by combatting its root causes, endowing problematic governments with legitimacy via financial flows would be off the table.

More critical to border externalization of “Fortress Europe” was the 2014 establishment of the European Commission’s Internal Security Fund (ISF). Including all EU states except Denmark and the United Kingdom, the ISF seeks to channel 3.8 billion euros from 2014 to 2020 to the securitization of European borders, visas, and policing. How states use these funds, however, is discretionary.[83] Germany has chosen to funnel much of its ISF money to the Vorverlagerungsstrategie, a program run under the German Interior Ministry (BMI) that roughly translates to “outward displacement strategy” and, much like its name suggests, seeks to intercept migrants before they even reach European shores.[84] Initially developed following 9/11 under the guise of combating crime, the Vorverlagerungsstrategie was first implemented in Afghanistan in 2002 with the establishment of the German Police Project Team (GPPT), through which over 2,000 German police officers have worked in Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif to train Afghan forces. Since the Arab Spring, the BMI has worked to expand such programs in many of its North African partner states and is keen on securitizing war-torn Libya in the near future.[85]

Tunisia—home to North Africa’s most stable government—is Germany’s strongest partner in the region, housing over 100 different development projects run in tandem with Berlin.[86] Though the BMI and GIZ frame these initiatives using humanitarian vocabulary—in terms of “developing the economy,” “supporting democracy,” and “creating jobs”—the reality on the ground looks far different.[87] In 2015, the Bundespolizei (German Federal Police) opened a permanent office in Tunis, stating that they hoped to create a “visible German presence” in the fight against illicit migration and human trafficking while offering apprenticeships and training to strengthen Tunisian forces.[88] Neither Tunisia nor Germany are unique in this regard: at present, over 1,780 members of the Bundespolizeiare deployed to 86 countries, while documents published by the German government suggest that the EU has a police force of around 5,000 broadly tasked with “crisis management”—an umbrella term that explicitly includes “humanitarian activities.” [89] Importantly, these numbers do not even begin to take Frontex into account, around which an emerging body of literature too large to grapple with in this paper has developed. Nevertheless, the export of one’s own police forces is a hardly-shrouded attempt at border externalization emblematic of a tacit violation of sovereignty on the part of Germany and all EU states for which it implicitly speaks.

Conclusion: Policing Paradox

The ISF and Vorverlagerungsstrategie represent a new frontier in European border policy whereby migration management has been delegated to interior—as opposed to foreign—ministries. European migration politics have always been problematic. The overwhelming jurisdiction formerly held by foreign ministries, however, meant that, at the very least, the autonomy of third-party states was respected; bilateral agreements acknowledged North African states were self-governing spaces. Now, the overwhelming presence of interior ministers at deliberations on migration into the Schengen area demonstrates that EU states have had a fundamental shift in how they regard the sovereignty of the other and security within foreign spaces: happenings elsewhere are no longer matters of foreign policy, but issues of immediate domestic concern. It is ironic that the proliferation of such a haughty approach developed in the wake of attempts to democratize the Arab world, apparently taking advantage of pleas for a freer society to bolster “Fortress Europe” and its exclusivity. Perhaps it is a response to a waning colonial presence in Africa.

Germany’s role in normalizing border externalization and the securitization of North Africa cannot be overstated. Berlin did not invent border externalization, but it made the practice acceptable by taking advantage of its history of non-interventionism and economic strength to create a flawed culture of trust, both inside and outside of the Schengen area. While its heightened engagement in the North Africa in the wake of the Arab Spring may have initially been motivated by hopes that the region would democratize, Germany exploited then-politically vulnerable and changing states to craft its own version of an exported police state rationalized by demands for security and heightened by claims that high-quality German development and job training initiatives are exceptional among world powers. As the European hegemon, Germany’s securitized, investment-driven approach to humanitarian initiatives has inevitably shifted EU norms as well.

The Vorverlagerungsstrategie and its various offshoots—both in Germany and in the EU at large—do not seem to be abating anytime soon. The current German Interior Minister, Horst Seehofer, is historically unrivaled in his xenophobia and hardline politics, while the ISF promises funding through 2020 at the very least. Meanwhile, as Angela Merkel’s final term elapses, her successor will likely indulge more extreme measures in the realm of immigration.[90] Across Europe, even the massively securitized approach of the present is somehow not enough to satisfy both political and popular cravings for racial and cultural homogeneity.

On December 10, 2018, leaders from Austria, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia refused to sign the UN’s revolutionary Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration (GCM), while Italy still remains undecided on the measure.[91] The racism and xenophobia plaguing the European continent are causes for serious concern that merit just as much intervention as the “irregular migration” occurring beyond its shores. Though lasting solutions are complex and perhaps illusory, an end to Schengen area’s border externalization and the exceptionalization of the European space would be a good start. Moving from a fortress to the commons would be even better.


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[1] Kroet 2016, “Germany: 1.1 Million Refugee Arrivals in 2015.”

[2] Shuster and Vick 2015, “Chancellor of the Free World.”

[3] BBC News 2018, “Migration to Europe in Chart.”

[4] Die Presse 2015, “Merkel: Wirtschaftsflüchtlinge können nicht bleiben.”

[5] In this paper, I adopt Lutz’s (2004) definition of securitization, namely “the process by which a social phenomenon [or space] becomes culturally identified as a ‘security issue’ or ‘security problem.’”

[6] The Schengen area is the borderless space encompassing 30 European countries, and is relatively – though not completely – synonymous with EU member states, due to notable absent parties such as the United Kingdom. It was established in 1995 and is expanded upon and defined in great detail on pages 5-6 of this paper.

[7] Shrivastava 2018, “Distinguishing Between Asylum-Seekers and Economic Migrants: An Analysis of State Practice.”

[8] United Nations, “Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

[9] Lind 2015, “Migrant vs. Refugee: What the Terms Mean, and Why They Matter.”

[10] European Commission, “Economic Migrant.”

[11] European Union, “The History of the European Union.”

[12] Gelatt 2015, “Schengen and the Free Movement of People Across Europe.”

[13] Norman 2013, “EU Territorial Control, Western Immigration Policies, and the Transformation of North Africa,” 198.

[14] Gelatt 2015.

[15] European Commission, “Europe Without Borders: The Schengen Area.”

[16] European Union, “The History of the European Union.”

[17] Goldschmidt 2006, “Storming the Fence: Morocco and Europe’s Anti-Immigration Policy,” 38; Ceuta and Melilla, for clarification, are small Spanish territories bordering northern Morocco, and thus the only EU/Schengen territory that can be reached by land from Africa. Landing in Ceuta and Melilla is equivalent to arriving in mainland Spain with regards to immigration policy, visas, etc.

[18] Goldschmidt 2006, 39; Cañas and Ortega Dolz 2018, “Spain Justifies Migrant Pushback in Wake of Large-Scale Jump at Ceuta.”

[19] The Guardian 2018, “More Than 100 Migrants Storm Border of Spanish Enclave ‘Throwing Battery Acid’ at Border Guards.”

[20] Casa-Cortes, Cobarrubias, and Pickles 2015, “Riding Routes and Itinerant Borders: Autonomy of Migration and Border Externalization,” 903; Goldschmidt 2006, 38.

[21] Goldschmidt 2006, 38.

[22] Goldschmidt 2006, 38.

[23] Goldschmidt 2006, 41.

[24] Ratka 2012, “Germany and the Arab Spring – Foreign Policy Between New Activism and Old Habits,” 60.

[25] Reslow and Vink 2015, “Three-Level Games in EU External Migration Policy: Negotiating Mobility Partnerships in West Africa,” 858.

[26] Reslow and Vink 2015, 859-862.

[27] Goldschmidt 2006, 38.

[28] Casa-Cortes, Cobarrubias, and Pickles 2015, 895.

[29] Kaya 2002, “The Changing Face of Europe – Population Flows in the 20th Century,” 22.

[30] Reslow 2012, “The Role of Third Countries in EU Migration Policy: The Mobility Partnerships,” 398.

[31] Casa-Cortes, Cobarrubias, and Pickles 2015, 898.

[32] Smithsonian National Museum of American History, “Storming Fortress Europe.”

[33] Seilonen 2016, “Fortress Europe – A Brief History of the European Migration and Asylum Policy,” 36.

[34] Pinos 2009, “Building Fortress Europe? Schengen and the Cases of Ceuta and Melilla,” 1.

[35] Goldschmidt 2006, 40.

[36] Karyotis 2007, “European Migration Policy in the Aftermath of September 11,”1-2.

[37] European Parliament, “Treaty of Amsterdam Amending the Treaty on European Union, the Treaties Establishing the European Communities and Related Acts.”

[38] Goldschmidt 2006, 37; Burridge 2014, “Spain Remembers Madrid Train Bombings 10 Years On”; BBC News 2015, “7/7 London Bombings: What Happened on 7 July 2005?”

[39] Bundesministerium des Innern, für Bau und Heimat. “Zusammenarbeit über Grenzen hinweg”; European Commission, “Prüm Convention.”

[40] Casa-Cortes, Cobarrubias, and Pickles 2015, 903-907.

[41] Babiker and Oette 2017: “Migration Control à la Khartoum: EU External Engagement and Human Rights Protection in the Horn of Africa,” 68.

[42] Processus de Rabat, “Processus de Rabat.”

[43] University of South Florida, “The Colonization of Africa, 1870-1910.”

[44] Goldschmidt 2006, 38.

[45] Reslow 2012, 398.

[46] Goldschmidt 2006, 36.

[47] Reslow 2012, 394.

[48] Faris 2011, “Italy’s Bad Romance: How Berlusconi Went Gaga for Gaddafi.”

[49] Norman 2013, 198.

[50] Lottes 2017, “Conflicting Interests: A Power Vacuum Remains in Libya.”

[51] Reslow 2012, 397.

[52] Note that the French do not capitalize these titles, a format which has been maintained in this paper.

[53] Reslow 2012, 412.

[54] Reslow 2012, 413; Frontex, AKA the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, was established in 2004.

[55] History, “The Arab Spring.”

[56] Ratka 2012, 61.

[57] Link 2015, “Gemeinsame Führung und die Kultur der Zurückhaltung in der deutschen Außenpolitik,” 289.

[58] Ratka 2012, 67.

[59] The National Library of Israel, “The Reparations Agreement of 1952 and the Response in Israel.”

[60] Ratka 2012, 60.

[61] History, “The Arab Spring.”

[62] Ratka 2012, 64.

[63] The Economist 2011, “The Lessons of Libya.”

[64] Ratka 2012, 63; Medick 2011, “Westerwelles roter Freund.”

[65] Smale 2016, “Guido Westerwelle Dies at 54; German Foreign Minister Opposed Libya Intervention.”

[66] Ratka 2012, 64; Federal Foreign Office 2011, “Foreign Minister Westerwelle and Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Niebel to Visit Egypt.”

[67] Ratka 2012, 64; Schäfer 2013, “Nordafrika-Politik zwischen Ideen und Interessen,” 12.

[68] Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, “Referat Naher/Mittler Osten und Nordafrika.”

[69] Ohlheiser 2014, “After Kicking Out Russia, the G8 is now the G7.”

[70] OECD, “G7 Deauville Partnership – MENA Transition Fund Project.”

[71] Middle East and North Africa Transition Fund, “Portfolio.”

[72] Eligon 2018, “The Big Hole in Germany’s Nazi Reckoning? Its Colonial History.”

[73] Ratka 2012, 65.

[74] Ratka 2012, 64.

[75] Tagesschau 2013, “Bundestagswahl 2013.”

[76] Kühne 2013, 113; Bittner and Naß 2014, “Kurs auf die Welt.”

[77] Spiegel 2014, “Gauck auf Sicherheitskonferenz: Deutschland soll sich in der Welt mehr einmischen.”

[78] Der Bundespräsident 2014, “Eröffnung der 50. Münchner Sicherheitskonferenz.”

[79] Kühne 2013, 117.

[80] 2014 Italian Presidency of the Council of the Council of the European Union. “Programme of the Italian Presidency of the Council of the European Union.”

[81] Babiker and Oette 2017, 68.

[82] Babiker and Oette 2017, 71, 86; Khartoum Process, “Operations.”

[83] European Commission, “Internal Security Fund – Police.”

[84] Zeit 2016, “Innenminister will Bootsflüchtlinge nach Afrika zurückschicken.”

[85] Bundesministerium des Innern, für Bau und Heimat. “Internationale Polizeimissionen: Im Einsatz für den Frieden.”

[86] René Kluge, Lecture at German Federal Academy for Security Policy (BAKS), 2018.

[87] Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, “Tunesien.”

[88] Frankfurter Allgemeine 2015, “Bundespolizei eröffnet ständiges Büro in Tunesien.”

[89] Bundespolizei, “Internationale Einsätze”; Bund-/Länder-Arbeitsgruppe ‘Internationale Polizeimissionen’ 2016, “Leitlinien für die gemeinsame Beteiligung des Bundes und der Länder an internationalen Polizeimissionen,” 7.

[90] Connolly 2018, “Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer Elected Merkel’s Successor as CDU Leader.”

[91] Ghani 2018, “UN Members Adopt Global Migration Pact.”

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