Source: EuroActive. 

The situation at the EU’s external border is going viral, and the Corona virus raises concerns. The former has prompted me to in my previous blog ( to clarify that I am not against borders as such. Invoking a metaphor, I added that managing flows, we needed thresholds and floodgates to be operated according to the situation at hand. I added that what I was against was rather what, following Balibar (2009) I called the sacralisation of borders, ’…as if they where the outer skin of an organic body called the people, or nation’.

Re-reading Popescu (2012; see: I find confirmation of the need to differentiate between borders according to function, much as the rejection of their sacralisation. The Peace of Westphalia formalising territorial sovereignty gave impetus for imagining territorially sharp border lines in the first instance, and ’…the French Revolution… made a key contribution to the modern bundling of state, territorial sovereignty, group identity, and borders. (…) The territorialization of identity materialized the nation. The institution of the state has the nation as its political expression. Boundaries served to bind it all together. They helped maintain domestic coherence (…) and regulate interactions with other nations.’ (Popescu 2012, 35) To this present day, societies thus continue to be thought of ‘…as contained by territorially linear state borders, and political independence cannot be imagined without state border lines…. What is absent … is the will to search for answers beyond borders and bordering, and perhaps to transcend borders and bordering altogether.‘ (op.cit, 45)

But if the ‘…idea that socially constructed border lines can contain the impact of human activity on the natural environment appears absurd’ (op.cit, 53) then the reverse is also true: such borderlines offer little to no protection against external threats, environmental or otherwise. This should be obvious now that the world experiences yet another health crisis, the consequences of which are still very much – not only metaphorically speaking – ‘in the air’. Indeed, borders ‘…do not provide a sufficiently effective framework for addressing some of the major issues affecting twenty-first-century societies. The territorial scope of these issues requires that they be regulated by different types of borders.’ (Op.cit, 65)

At which point I return to what I have said above about looking at borders as floodgates to be opened and closed as needed. Expert on neither flood defences nor on migration, I leave it at this: As the annual floods of the Nile are, some skilled migrants are highly sought after. Even countries having experienced a large influx recently, like Austria, Germany and the UK, operate schemes to attract more. Some migration – genuine asylum seekers – simply needs to be absorbed, as has been the case with those fleeing from the Yugoslav wars. (The Austrian minister of justice from the Greens, a lady, is of Bosnian origins, surely a sign of successful integration; And some – so-called economic migrants, a large proportion as it seems – may be in theory, if not always in practice, contained. Even there, the extent to which and the modalities of containing economic migrants should be carefully considered. There is already talk about the UK post-Brexit likely to suffer from labour shortages. Anyhow, in no event is the linear border, not even the external border of the EU, the most obvious place to manage flows. I do not think it beyond the pale to sort these various streams out in their countries of origin, or off-shore for that matter. That this requires a huge effort seems clear. Above all it requires acceptance that we live in an interconnected world where thinking of societies as being – see above – contained by territorially linear state borders – must cease.

Balibar, E. (2009) ‘Europe as borderland’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 27, 190-215.

Popescu, G. (2012) Bordering and Ordering in the Twenty-first Century: Understanding Borders, Rowman Littlefield, Lanham – Boulder – New York – Toronto – Plymoth UK.


Andreas Faludi

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