If there’s one area in which no one disputes the vital role Europe needs to play, it’s immigration. Because the continent, supposedly in decline, is massively attracting those left behind by development, the victims of wars and political tyrannies. In 2023, 380,000 people entered the European Union (EU) illegally, the highest figure since 2016 but a drop in the bucket compared to the bloc’s 450 million inhabitants. But also because the European project, built on the free movement of goods and people, requires – at the risk of regression– control of the EU’s external borders. Eighty-six percent of Europeans want to see this control reinforced according to a survey by the Fondapol think-tank. Among left-wing voters, the figure is 80%.

The trouble is that the rhetoric on this subject, which is dominating the campaign for the June 9 European elections, revolves more around simplistic slogans than ideas likely to have a grip on reality.

Take the “double border” advocated by Jordan Bardella, lead candidate for the far-right Rassemblement National (RN). Firstly, it involves “systematically turning back migrant boats that want to arrive on European soil.” On this point, Marine Le Pen’s heir should seek advice from Giorgia Meloni. The Italian prime minister came to power promising a “naval blockade” for the same purpose. After taking office, she called for EU solidarity and cooperation with North African countries to prevent the influx. She even authorized 452,000 foreigners to work in Italy by 2025.

Read more Subscribers only Giorgia Meloni’s European double bluff

What’s more, Bardella wants to deprive non-EU foreigners of free movement within the Schengen area. But when French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal pointed out that such a measure would involve checking everyone, including border workers, and would create huge queues, the far-right leader fell back on the idea of “reinforcing random checks,” precisely what is being done today.

Painstakingly negotiated compromises

The same discrepancy between shock slogan and reality applies to the idea of “physical barriers to the East (walls, ditches, cameras, artificial intelligence, etc.)” that François-Xavier Bellamy, lead candidate for the conservative Les Républicains (LR) list for the European elections, dreams of deploying. The example of the walls erected by the United States on the Mexican border, particularly during Donald Trump’s term in office – which did not prevent record arrivals of migrants – casts doubt on the effectiveness of such installations.

As for former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s flagship promise, taken up by his successor, to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda, it’s causing a stir in the EU. But it won’t be honored, as Rishi Sunak had to admit, before the July 4 general election. And it probably never will be, since the heavily favored Labour Party has promised to cancel it. The Rwanda plan, Labour says, was a scam from start to finish.

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