The Importance of Open Borders in Europe

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It's easy to travel between EU member states, but some want that to change very soon. Here's why, despite the security risks, Europe needs open borders.
It’s easy to travel between EU member states, but some want that to change very soon. Here’s why, despite the security risks, Europe needs open borders.

Imagine if someone driving from New York to New Jersey or Los Angeles to Las Vegas had to pass through immigration every time he or she crossed the border. Interstate commerce would slow down considerably, and the desire to do business or have a bit of fun (sightseeing, skiing, gambling) in another state could decline as well.

Luckily, it’s still incredibly easy to cross state borders in the U.S. In continental Europe, it’s also fairly simple to travel back and forth between European Union member states — although some people would like that to change very soon.

Just like in North America, security concerns over terrorism and immigration keep parts of Europe awake at night. The balance between freedom of moment, and, as the old baseball song goes (using a very non-European analogy here) to “root, root, root for the home team,” — i.e. the European nationality someone belongs to — often comes into conflict.

Great Britain, which is already harder to get into than other EU countries (island status makes that a bit easier), could implement immigration quotas to keep some EU passport holders at bay or strip away tax credits for people looking to benefit from the U.K.’s social system. Last year, some in the Dutch government tried to slap good citizenship contracts on immigrants, including those come from EU countries, due to concerns over an influx of Bulgarians and Romanians into the small country. France, worried about newcomers with terrorist inclinations, has been toying around with the idea of blocking EU immigrants who could potentially become security risks.

Overall, as Pew Research has found out, immigration is a hot topic in Europe. Concerns over security, assimilation (or lack thereof) and competition for jobs rank high on the list of those who tend toward an anti-immigration or nationalistic stance.

While many Americans undoubtedly sympathize with Europe’s immigration apprehensions (although the players differ in North America some), I believe Europe needs to keep its borders as open as possible.

Yes, there are financial and security risks. And yes, that whole freedom-of-movement thing can be messy when dealing with different languages, cultures and national laws. Even so, a shared economic fate — as unbalanced as it is at times (compare Germany’s GDP to Greece, for example) — and free movement (especially for young people) is what keeps Europe together.

The European Union is not a military union, nor is it a union built upon one rock-solid, underlying founding principal. It is, at its heart, about commerce and the flow of goods and talent, which means people (the really smart ones, and, unfortunately, the moochers). It’s also about never, ever starting another crippling, massive war again.

If history has taught us anything, when Europe is divided, or vulnerable to attack (just ask the Ukrainians), Europe goes to war. The last two times this happened on major scale, the entire planet suffered. If Europe is to function as a democratic, collective whole, open borders — despite the inevitable security risks — need to be maintained. It has been, and will continue to be, a bumpy roller coaster ride — but at the end of the day, it beats getting flung off the roller coaster tracks all together.

Carl Pettit is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine

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