Fortress Europe

There are a few items to flag on restrictions to immigration and internal movement in Europe, something I’ve been keeping a pretty close eye on:

Soeren Kern’s WPR Briefing from yesterday on how Spain’s problems with unemployment have led to a rethink of its immigration policy.

Risto Karajkov’s WPR Briefing on EU enlargement and the Balkans also includes mention of the EU’s eagerly anticipated visa-waiver program for the region, which might be another casualty of the financial crisis.

This EU Observer item describes how Switzerland is considering invoking an emergency clause in its bilateral immigration accords with the EU, which would allow it to restrict the entry of EU laborers. The accords, which currently allow unlimited access to the Swiss labor market for EU citizens, were recently renewed by referendum.

– And finally, again via the EU Observer, Italy’s parliament just passed a bill criminalizing illegal immigration, including fines for both the immigrants and landlords who rent to them. That follows a deal the Italian government concluded earlier this week with Libya, for direct return ofintercepted illegal immigrants without onshore processing. The U.N. condemned the arrangement for breaching international law on refugees.

The most alarming thing about the new Italian bill, which has yet to be ratified by the Senate, is that it sets up citizen anti-crime patrols. The opposition has warned that these could turn into vigilante groups that target foreigners, as well as minorities such as the Roma. Given the increasing attacks on the Roma in Hungary, as well as anti-Roma sentiment and violence in Italy, that’s not a farfetched notion.

This is an ugly, if predictable, component to the fears raised by economic downturns. But it also follows a pre-recession trend in Europe towards tightening restrictions on immigration and cracking down on illegal entry, both of which were a focus of the French EU presidency last year.

I remember a French analyst last summer saying that the creation of a Fortress Europe mentality risked reinforcing the perception abroad of a Clash of Civilizations, as much if not more so than France’s association with the U.S. strategic consensus in the Middle East. That process has only accelerated with the financial crisis.