Since the global financial crisis, the European Union has been deeply divided over economic policy. With the Libya intervention, it has split over foreign policy. But today few issues are proving more divisive within the bloc than immigration.
That much was clear this week, when the fractious 27-member European Union rejected Italy’s idea to make it easier for immigrants who first land in Italy to travel elsewhere in Europe. At a time when a wave of immigrants fleeing the unrest in North Africa shows no signs of abating, the rejection raised the possibility of tightened intra-European border controls for the first time since visa-free travel was introduced in the 1990s.
Instead, Europe’s policy has been to hope that immigrants will not come and to try to persuade North African nations to compel their citizens to stay home. Although the collapse of governments in Tunisia and Egypt and the unrest in Libya have undone a variety of bilateral treaties with European countries, including agreements on migration, that policy is still in place.