European Youth Media Days 2016

Open borders or fortress Europe?

Text by Orsolya Lehotai, Hungary


Should internal and external borders in the European Union be open or controlled? Young Europeans living close to European borders tell their stories.

This talk and discussion of the European Youth Event 2016 was organised by Fronterras – European (border)lines and invited approximately 40 young people from all over Europe to get engaged in the debates on migration and the refugee crises that raised questions relating to the European borders.

Fronterras (France) that was the 2nd Prize Winner of the 2015 European Charlemagne Youth prize in Germany and project began with 28 young Europeans, four of whom were living on the EU’s external border. They created a website bringing together tales of life on Europe’s borders and the journeys across them.

The project organisers, Sarah Fröb (Responsible European affairs, All Contents / ParisBerlin ) and Laura Majchrzak (All Contents, Responsable projet Tumblr Thumb Up Europe) explained their idea as following: “The abstract concept of the border becomes a reality when seen through the eyes of those who experience it on a daily basis. We want to help people discover Europe through the boundaries which were arbitrarily imposed on it long ago and which have made it the multifaceted continent it is today.”

Within the framework of this session the facilitators organised a debating game and formed three groups arguing for and against border control in the European Union in. The third group served as a jury who evaluated the style and content of the argument and summarised the outcome of the debate.

The main arguments were based on the experience of the refugee crisis, how it should be solved, and what are the main interests of the citizens of the European Union.

The team arguing against border control mainly used the advantages of job prospect and easy migration for work from one country to another and highlighted how it contributes to the idea of the open market, which was the goal of the initial founders of the EU in order to prove the economic importance of free trade in the EU. It increases the job opportunities of all citizens, they can get better paying jobs, make money somewhere else and then spend it in their own country. The more ethical approach relied on the idea that Europe should be the union of the nations and thus it should have a bigger external border instead of internal borders.

According to the other team, the EU needs to protect refugees from war, ant it became clear during the peak of the refugee crisis that it cannot be we managed without common help and cooperation. Therefore the EU needs to set up internal borders again to defend its citizens.

One of the participants said that however no border control sounds lovely, but ongoing crimes based on abusing the open borders are actually worse. According to her, there is no real communication between the borders against organised crime and thus we need to reintroduce border control to avoid criminals taking advantage on this.

A counter-argument against the latter emphasised that he European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union (Frontex) is enough for cooperation in the area of migration, asylum and security and we already pay for its existence. Thus nation states don’t need to prevent people from their neighbouring countries, just a more cooperated dealing with the refugee crisis is necessary.

Against the idea of Frontex, another participant pointed out that the existence of borders are about national sovereignty as well, and a state is only capable of showing its sovereignty if it owns its borders legitimately to protect its citizens. Therefore border control needs to be reintroduced.

Furthermore the importance of the inside borders should be considered the same as the external border.

The evaluation of this highly passionate debate showed that since the arguments and counter-arguments were intrinsically oppositional there were no chance and attempt to find a common base. Therefore the similar ongoing debate got reproduced. Young people living nearby borders shared their experiences and thoughts as well on tis topic.

Participants mentioned that since the Parisian and Brussels attack, there is a strict control in these places that is easily captured by seeing soldiers on the streets and having regular car checks on the street.

Young people from Montenegro talked about the technical difficulties and hours long waiting that they experience by not being member of the EU. The other hotspot of the debate was about the status, protection, and treatment of refugees and the borders? Majority of the opinions promoted that unethical treatment of the refugees is unacceptable, but the EU needs to implement restrictions on the status of everyone who is not from Iran or Syria. Arguing with the potential danger of radical militants and extremists infiltrating through the open borders freely was also mainstream.

At the end there was a common understanding that making agreement and deeper cooperation with all the EU countries to find out the solution and prevent future crisis should be also the attempt in this case.

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