Who’s at the helm in Europe?

by Michael Seckler

“Eurosur”! Ever heard of it? Even though it may sound like a new “no-frills-airline” it is not about moving people. Actually, quite the opposite. Eurosur is short for “European Border Surveillance System” and is part of Europe’s answer to illegal immigration. For me, it is the law that convinced me to go vote in May 2014 when the next European parliamentary elections are being held.

picture: zeit.de

photo: zeit.de

What is Eurosur? In short it is a system designed to coordinate the work of numerous national agencies dealing with border protection at the moment. Using a sophisticated system of drones and satellites it is meant to improve communication and information exchange between the different national border services. On the 10th of October the European Parliament voted for the adaption of Eurosur. This was exactly one week after the tragic accident close to Lampedusa in which almost 400 people drowned in the Mediterranean sea. However coincidental this was (the plans for Eurosur started in 2008 already) it definitely influenced the subsequent public debate.

 In this debate two camps quickly developed: On the one side there were supporters of Eurosur arguing that complete and better coordinated surveillance of European Borders will help protecting immigrants who are in distress at sea. “Eurosur will help to protect lives” promised EU-Commissioner Cecilia Malmström. The critics of Eurosur on the other side see it differently: In their eyes the priority of the surveillance is not protection of immigrants, but stopping them from coming to Europe. Member of the EU-Parliament Ska Keller said that while life protection is held up as a goal of Eurosur, the system won’t lead to a better cooperation of member states when it comes to actually saving people. A clause to explicitly add sea-rescue-measures to Eurosur’s objectives was rejected by the majority of the parliament.

But what then are Eurosur’s priorities? Saving people or sending them away? Finding solutions for immigrants or pushing off responsibilities? And can and should these efforts – literally – sit in the same boat?

Details like the sea-rescue clause and the focus of Eurosur in general conceal bigger questions: What kind of Europe do we want for our future? A Europe of separation or inclusion? Do we want to militarize or humanize our borders? And even though it happens step by step; these kind of decisions ultimately reflect a self-conception of Europe as a global player. In this sense, I believe that there is something at stake when the European people vote in May ’14.

The issue of immigration is just one example where political competences are moving from the national to the European level. Due to the crises of the last years one can expect a strengthening of anti-European voices in the next election. In the long run, however, people will realize that national politics are increasingly incapable of addressing long-term political problems. When the unavoidable transition of political power is happening we need citizens who are willing to engage with new political organs. Going to vote next May might be a first step in that direction.

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