Fortress Europe

‘Fortress Europe’ is a phrase used to communicate fears that the European Union is or might become a self-contained bloc of nations increasingly impervious to penetration by goods, services or people coming from the outside world. It has a doubly pejorative ring by virtue of its echo of Nazi Germany’s Festung Europa, suggesting both impregnable defences and economic autarky.

During the 1990s, the phrase ‘Fortress Europe’ was heard most frequently from economists and foreign diplomats who voiced concerns that the Union would engage in an increasingly protectionist external trade policy, or Common Commercial Policy (CCP) as it is officially known. They attacked the EU for its existing policy of Community preference in agricul­tural trade and feared that this would set a precedent for other sectors. Some believed, wrongly in the event, that the completion of the single market would be accompanied by new restrictions on imports of goods and services from third countries, matched by a deliberate manipulation of technical standards to screen out foreign competition. In fact, since then, EU trade with third countries has risen and remaining quantitative and tariff barriers with virtually all partners have fallen to among the lowest in the world. EU technical standards have increasingly been adopted as international standards, simply because they offer access to the world’s largest single market.

Recently, the debate about Europe as an economic fortress has been largely confined to a lively dialogue between the European Commission and successive French governments. For example, in June 2007, following statements by the new French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, that European citizens needed greater protection and the Union should promote ‘European preference’, Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson retorted in Paris that ‘the response to a Fortress Europe is a Fortress America, or a Fortress China and India. We need reciprocal openness, not reciprocal barriers.’

The term ‘Fortress Europe’ has also become increasingly associated with an attack by some non-governmental organisations on individual EU member states and/or the Union as a whole for pursuing restrictive immigration policies. The creation of an area of internal free movement for persons within the EU – foreseen by the Treaties and promoted both by the completion of the single market and by the creation of the Schengen area – led to increasing pressure for a common EU policy towards third-country migrants, an area of policy decided by qualified majority voting (QMV) in the Council of Ministers since 2004. The growing appeal of Europe to both asylum seekers and economic migrants has encouraged the EU to enforce a stronger external frontier and actively consider a policy of promoting the entry of more highly-skilled migrants at the expense of others.

September 2012

Copyright: Anthony Teasdale, 2012

Citation: The Penguin Companion to European Union (2012), additional website entry


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