The 2015 European Migrant Crisis: Can Freedom of Movement be Considered as Being inclusive or Exclusive?

The events surrounding this year’s European migrant crisis have questioned whether Schengen-style free movement in Europe is inclusive or exclusive towards the migrants, because European countries have responded differently in their approaches towards allowing this influx of people to travel freely on European territory. In this regard, the concept of free movement could be interpreted in two ways. Firstly, it could be interpreted as being inclusive, meaning that it is applied as a universal right applicable to all peoples around the world; regardless of their ethnic, religious or cultural background, or place of origin. The philosopher Immanuel Kant described this approach as being “universalizable”, arguing that for actions to be moral they would need to be implemented unanimously and relate to all people in a similar fashion (Warburton, 2004: 45). Therefore, if this concept were to be applied in the context of the European Migrant Crisis freedom of movement would need to be guaranteed to all migrants, regardless of their citizenship. However, free movement can also be interpreted in an exclusive fashion, a legal principle which is only applicable to European citizens, or a visa issued to non-European citizens with certain conditions. Indeed, the Treaty of Maastricht stresses the importance of EU citizenship as the “basis of the right of persons to move and reside freely within the territory of the member states”. Thus, in order to enjoy free movement within EU territory an individual would need to qualify for a residence permit (or a Schengen Visa). In this sense it seems that citizenship poses a barrier against free movement being implemented in a universalizable, or inclusive manner.

Firstly, one can explore the divisions between inclusivity and exclusivity by examining the moral obligation to maintain and facilitate a basic standard of hospitality for any human being, regardless of their race, culture, religion or region of origin. This approach was espoused by Kant in his argument that outsiders arriving in foreign territories should not be treated with hostility, but rather be embraced as long as they do not pose a threat to societal peace. Notably, two countries have taken the lead in this inclusive approach, Germany and Sweden.  In particular, Germany has embraced the moral requirement to welcome the estimated 800,000 refugees and migrants, with Chancellor Merkel calculating that the risks are to be compensated by the opportunities that mass immigration poses to the country.  Sweden also seems to have a positive attitude towards the so called ‘crisis’. For example, Sweden’s migration minister argued that migration from the Middle East has a progressive impact on the economy by offsetting the problems caused by the ageing population in northern European states.  Also, in Sweden and Germany the media has depicted crowds of local residents cheering and welcoming new arrivals, many offering them food, drink and shelter. However, this does not mean that all or even the majority of German or Swedish public opinion is positive about un-hindered migration. Whilst Germany and Sweden’s refugee policies have highlighted the positive aspects of integration on both their societies and economies, they have raised questions as to whether support for sustaining the influx of migrants can be maintained at a domestic level.

In this regard, whilst universal hospitality satisfies a general case for humanity, the concept has its limitations. Kant acknowledged that the concept was limited because foreigners did not have the right to demand a permanent settlement on a territory; therefore they only had a right of “temporary sojourn”. This means that those people of a foreign origin can only enjoy a period of temporary hospitality from a host nation.  Indeed, the terms of the Schengen agreement declare that a person must be “legally present” on Schengen territory. Therefore, migrants from outside of the EU must be prepared to adhere to the legal practices of the European countries that they are entering, even if this means that they are unable to freely cross into this territory. In the case of Hungary, Croatia and Slovakia’s approach to the refugee crisis and their self-proclaimed legal duty to protect the cultural balance of Europe. For example, one of the justifications for Hungary’s border closures was its insistence that Europe needed to be protected for those already enjoying the rights associated with passport-free movement.  However, this scepticism isn’t only reserved for those countries who are protective about their cultural integrity, but also those who feel as though they are taking on more than their fair share of the burden. For example, the recent decision by the Swedish government to introduce temporary border controls on migrants highlights the concerns towards a completely universal approach to freedom of movement.

The European refugee crisis has reignited the debate as to whether the right to freedom of movement and settlement can be applied in an inclusive universal manner. In one sense, it can be embraced by the attitudes of Germany and some Scandinavian countries. However, those same ideals are met with certain conditions, which ironically were created by the same universally-minded states.  The existence of legal caveats and the need for some form of required citizenship indicates that free movement cannot be enjoyed in its entirety unless the individual or group commits to it. Overall, it depends on whether there is the moral commitment to protect the concept of free movement as a universal principle.

Author Biography

Alistair Donophy holds a Bachelors degree in Politics from the University of Surrey (UK), and has a particular interest in national and international immigration policy. Alistair’s principle interests involve both national and international politics, with a particular emphasis on social and public policy making, having carried out previous policy analysis on UK alcohol licensing policy and the integration of Roma peoples across Europe. He has also had considerable involvement with the British Liberal Democrat party, being a local activist and a researcher for a former liberal MP, as well as writing scholarly articles for his university department magazine.

Warburton, N. (2004). Philosophy: the basics. London: Routledge.

Cover Image: Frans de Wit under a CC BY NC-ND 2.0 Generic Creative Commons license

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