The European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has warned that immigration could become a “dissolving force” for the 27-nation bloc, arguing that some member states simply “don’t want to accept people from outside.”
Speaking to the Guardian for an interview published on Friday, Borrell pointed to rising nationalist sentiment across Europe, noting that “we have not been able until now to agree on a common migration policy.”
Migration is a bigger divide for the European Union. And it could be a dissolving force for the European Union,” he said, adding: “There are some members of the European Union that are Japanese-style – we don’t want to mix. We don’t want migrants. We don’t want to accept people from outside. We want our purity.”
However, Borrell argued that Europe’s current “low demographic growth” means that some states require an influx of immigration, calling the situation a “paradox.”
“If we want to survive from a labor point of view, we need migrants,” the official continued.
Borrell’s comments come just days after German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier declared that his country could no longer take in migrants and refugees, telling an Italian newspaper that “Germany, like Italy, is at the limit of its capacity.”
The president cited “strong immigration from the eastern borders, from Syria, Afghanistan,” as well as the arrival of “over a million refugees from Ukraine” in the last year, and called for a “permanent solidarity mechanism” to ensure a “fair distribution” of migrants in Europe.
According to newspaper Die Welt, Rome is also re-evaluating its border policies amid a spike in migration, with officials reportedly notifying other EU members that Italy would be halting migrant transfers “for a limited period of time” last December. They said the move was linked to “suddenly arising” technical issues related to the country’s intake capacity, though the suspension has continued into 2023, the German outlet reported.
While Borrell warned that dissent over immigration could eventually threaten the integrity of the EU, he pledged that, for now, the bloc would remain intact. Britain’s decision to leave the EU had served as a “vaccine” for other members, he argued, stating that “No one wants to follow the British leaving the European Union.”
Migration has remained a highly contentious issue within the bloc since 2015, when the EU was hit by an influx of refugees, as well as economic migrants, driven by poverty and wars in Africa and the Middle East.
Some countries, including Hungary and Poland, strongly opposed attempts by Brussels to force them to accept and settle migrants, which initially arrived in other member states. The Italian government, meanwhile, has closed its ports to ships transporting migrants from North Africa, insisting that other member states should share the burden of accepting them. The demand for tighter border controls was also one of the drivers behind the ‘Leave’ campaign during the 2016 Brexit referendum in the UK.