COPENHAGEN – The European Commission recently unveiled long-awaited measures to bring neighboring countries in the Mediterranean and the former Soviet Union closer to Europe. On the same day, another department of the same Commission presented proposals aimed at curbing visa-waiver programs for some non-European nationals. Few missed the irony of formulating two plans that pointed in opposite directions.
Attracting neighbors has long been a noble aspiration – and something of a European specialty. The European Union’s embrace of post-communist republics in Central Europe represented a most powerful symbol of the reach of Western liberal democracy.
In today’s neighborhood, where EU expansion is not in the cards, Europe hopes to shore up its presence by opening its huge internal market and increasing assistance. Crucially, the Commission’s recent proposals include the creation of “mobility partnerships” with Tunisia, Morocco, and Egypt, aimed at facilitating travel for local students and businesspeople.
By contrast, the proposed restrictions on the visa-waiver program include “safeguard clauses” that would temporarily suspend access to Europe’s Schengen area, most likely for those from Balkan countries. This is controversial enough: the decision is motivated by a large influx of asylum-seekers, often offering frivolous reasons, originating from Serbia. But visa liberalization has been the main concrete signal of Europe’s goodwill towards this neglected backyard, which dreams of joining the EU. Whatever this plan’s impact in practice, the political message is clear: when in doubt, Europe is better off sealing its borders.