© 2024 Michigan State University Board of Trustees
Public Media from Michigan State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Amid Divisive Crises, Europeans Rethink Open Borders


The terrorist attack in Brussels this week drew an outpouring of sympathy. And it also sharpened calls to close borders and retreat from the European Union. The dream of a united Europe is being shaken by the real-life nightmares of terrorism, a taxing migrant crisis and the rise of nationalist parties across the continent. Ivo Daalder is the president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and former U.S. ambassador to NATO. He joins us from Chicago. Mr. Ambassador, thanks for being with us.

IVO DAALDER: Well, it's my pleasure.

SIMON: Are a lot of Europeans rethinking whether or not they even want to be unified?

DAALDER: Yes, I think they are. I think a good many Europeans are thinking maybe open borders is not such a great idea. Maybe the best thing we can do is to start closing our borders and make sure that there are no migrants, no refugees, no foreign influences that are affecting our security and well-being inside the country.

SIMON: You've also suggested that there's a kind of a parallel with politics in the United States at the moment.

DAALDER: Yeah, in some way I think you are seeing the same phenomenon in Europe as you are seeing with the support for Donald Trump and, to some extent, for Bernie Sanders who are attracting voters who are, in the Trump case, anti-immigrant, don't really want to be part of an activist foreign policy. They're anti-trade and they're nativists.

Those same streaks are in Europe. We're seeing people who are rebelling against the European Union, the open market, the open borders, who are rebelling against migration and refugees and who have lost out or feel that they have lost out on globalization and trade and are now opposing trade. So the same phenomenon we see here in the United States you also see in Europe. And in that sense, we are having a crisis that really affects Western liberal democracies writ large.

SIMON: I wonder what you'd say, Mr. Ambassador, to a citizen of Belgium or France who might say now a united Europe is just too bureaucratic and too centralized to protect its population.

DAALDER: Well, I think that is a sentiment you are hearing increasingly in places like Belgium and France that - the problem is that the threat is not just from without but it is also from within. Belgian citizens, people born in Belgium, blew up the metro station and airport, where French citizens born in France who blew up the concert hall and stadium in - last November.

That threat needs to be dealt with not only by the countries themselves but can more effectively be dealt with by the Europeans coming together, sharing intelligence, which is not what they're doing right now, protecting their external borders much better than they have been able to do, rather than each individually trying to deal with this challenge.

SIMON: You've cautioned that closing borders in Europe you believe will damage the continent but also the United States. And I wonder what you'd say to those Americans who might ask why. What does that have to do with me?

DAALDER: Well, we fought three wars in the 20th century in Europe - we had World War I, we had World War II and we had the Cold War - because we believed that a stable united Europe was our best partner to deal with the challenges in the world. If that was true in the 20th century, it's even more true in the 21st century when it is the only partners we can find militarily, economically and politically around the world that we can count on. They're not doing enough, but they're doing more than anybody else.

If your board were to go under, were to collapse, where nationalism would ignite the kinds of dangers we saw in the 1920s, in the 1930s, we, the United States, would suffer in the same way that we did in the 1920s and 1930s.

SIMON: Ivo Daalder is president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, former U.S. ambassador to NATO. Thanks so much.

DAALDER: It's my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Journalism at this station is made possible by donors who value local reporting. Donate today to keep stories like this one coming. It is thanks to your generosity that we can keep this content free and accessible for everyone. Thanks!