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One reason why they fight

April 23, 2011

Look no further than this story to understand why military intervention and political change in North Africa are much more vital to Europeans than America.

France has called for an easier mechanism to temporarily suspend an agreement which allows freedom of movement across 25 European countries.

The move follows an influx of migrants from Tunisia and Libya into Italy.

Italy’s decision to grant Tunisians 20,000 temporary residence permits, allowing free travel in the passport-free Schengen zone, has angered France.

Last week, French officials temporarily stopped trains with migrants crossing the border from Italy into France.

The decision sparked anger between Italy and France, with Italy accusing its neighbour of overstepping the treaty on border-free travel.

A mass exodus of refugees is a problem enough in itself. The fear of receiving them is why Italy hoped to maintain stability early on in the campaign to begin intervention in Libya, and has now switched to recognizing the rebels since its neighbor seems committed to regime change. From the French perspective, there is great incentive to fight the Libyan war “over there” so they do not have to deal with streams of North African refugees at home.

In his speech to the American people on US military operations in Libya, he cited the problems refugee flows might pose to the new regimes in Egypt and Tunisia. He left out another relatively young institutional experiment, the European Union. As the article describes, the influx of Tunisians to Italy and France has laid bare the weaknesses of the Schengen agreement. The agreement allows the emergency suspension of the pact 30 days. France and Italy will be lucky if the crisis ends that quickly.

The Schengen agreement is just another example of the relationship of the European project’s success to external security provided by NATO and the United States. The advances in internal integration rely on extra-regional stabilization. Some analysts have hoped or feared that European integration would create a power to balance American power or assert its own foreign security policy. The European reluctance to invest in the defense capabilities necessary for such a role¬†may, instead, mean that integration just creates new forms of Atlantic security dependency.

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