By Panagiotis Ioakeimidis*
Thirty-two years ago, in November, 1989, all of Europe condemned walls. “Never new walls in Europe” was the catchphrase.
The most disgraceful wall in Europe – the Berlin Wall – had just been torn down. The Cold War was coming to an end, Europe was regaining its political unity – “free and whole” – and democracy was returning to its eastern part even as the Soviet Union was finally collapsing.
A new, borderless Europe was opening up before our eyes, a Europe that would be free and strong, but not a Fortress Europe.
After all, the establishment of the European Union’s internal market had completely eliminated internal borders. At the same time, the EU adopted the concept of external borders, as well as their “common management” and protection.
No one at the time was opposed to the logic of abolishing borders, and certainly everyone, including Greece, was against building new walls. Konstantinos Mitsotakis, as prime minister at the time (beginning in 1990) was a fervent proponent of a free Europe and an opponent of Fortress Europe.
Those hopes were dashed as history unfolded with a different logic. There was a major enlargement of the EU in 2004. Globalisation and economic want suddenly changed the political environment with the growth of refugee-migrant flows, especially from 2015 and thereafter.
Europe, or at least a substantial segment of it, abandoned its vision and began imitating Donald Trump by building walls, as Trump did at the US-Mexico border, which at the time, however, Europe strongly condemned.
Now we have reached the outrageous point at which the governments of 12 EU member-states, including all those on the extreme-right – Poland, Hungary, etc. – but unfortunately also supposedly Social Democratic Denmark and of course Greece, are essentially demanding that Europe become a fortress.
In a joint letter, they are demanding on the one hand that the EU fund the construction of walls-fences at its external borders, and on the other hand that it proceed with refugee and migrant pushbacks – even though the term is not used in the letter – for which Greece already faces damning charges.
They are in essence seeking the abolition of Europe as a community of values, justice, and respect for human dignity.
Poland took this to the extreme with a declaration (by its politically compromised Constitutional Tribunal) that articles in the Lisbon Treaty are incompatible with the country’s Constitution, thus abolishing the fundamental principle of the primacy of EU law over member-states’ law.
Naturally, the irrational demands of the 12 countries will not be accepted, as the competent Home Affairs Commissioner, Ylva Johansson, made clear.
It should be noted that all mainstream EU countries – France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal – are not signatories to the letter.
On the contrary, Cyprus, which is a signatory, wants to erect a wall on the Green Line [that separates the free areas of the Republic of Cyprus from the Turkish-occupied north], which is totally irrational.
Instead of being in the mainstream, Greece is standing with the peripheral and odd countries of the system.
The EU’s external borders must be effectively guarded and indeed should be guaranteed, but not with measures that destroy the identity of the Union and violate international law.
*Professor Panagiotis Ioakeimidis is a former ambassador-counsellor of the Greek Foreign Ministry and an advisor of FEPS and ELIAMEP. His latest book, entitled Achievements and Strategic Mistakes in Foreign Policy After the Regime Change, has been published by Themelio Editions.