What defines the European Union? If one has to think about the EU and its quasi-state-ness, it is certainly not its common foreign policy. Each time, the EU confronts a major foreign policy crisis, the members realize they have un-identical interests. Is it about the Euro? Well, that is pretty recent and now pretty damaged. Ah, one core bit of EU identity would be this: that it is supposed to be BORDER-less. I truly enjoyed driving all over the Benelux countries a couple of months ago--from Belgium to Netherlands back to Belgium to Luxembourg to Belgium and then to France (Vimy) and then back to Belgium--without stopping at a customs line along the way.
The question du jour is: will xenophobia trump this essential component of EU-ness? France and Italy, due to their desire to limit the flow of refugees from North Africa, are now raising questions about the heart of the single Europe enterprise. Is this surprising? Mais non! Am I taking too much delight in the relevance of xenophobia for 21st century Europe? Mais oui! I would argue that this presents perhaps more of a crisis for the EU than the Greece's/Iceland's/Ireland's financial messes. If the European countries start really start to enforce flows across their borders, that truly is a return to the past. The Euro can be seen as a hiccup, but preventing the flow of folks? That is a major reversal.
But there is a way to avoid this mess--by relying on the essential meaning of the EU--no walls within, big walls without. If these countries can get the rest to be better at keeping out all of the troublesome folks who are fleeing oppression and violence, then there is no need for barriers between members of the organization. The good news is that xenophobia is widely shared within Europe, so I would guess the next step of EU development is not enlargement (more countries admitted) nor economic deepening, but a common effort to develop standards and policies and practices to keep out foreigners, especially the poor ones (and just perhaps from the predominantly Muslim countries).
I wish I had a good term to parallel deepening and enlarging but wall-ifying sounds bad. Heightening? Vague. Hmm, more work on the new EU trend. Perhaps closing will do for now.