martedì , 7 Luglio 2020
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For the critique of the political economy of mobility. Remarks on the new constitution of Europe

Appunti economia politica della mobilitàItalian

The «compromise» achieved during the European summit on migrations held in Brussels on the 25th of June is the clearest symptom of the crisis which is taking place within the borders of Europe. Migrants are this crisis. This, however, does not concern the presumed emergency caused by the growing number of men and women who daily pretend to enter Europe. Rather, the crisis consists of the unavoidable tension between mobility – which is nowadays the main feature of contemporary living labor – and its government. Mobility is an objective fact charged of subjective force, and this makes of it a crucial political problem for the definition of the European political space. Our point of departure is an evidence: in Brussels on the 25th of June there was not any agreement. Rather, the dispute has been suspended. If one considers the dimension of the movements of migrants towards Europe, the willing relocation of 40.000 men and women already arrived at the Southern borders and of 20.000 refugees now assembled in some North-African camp is simply a ridiculous result. The institutional dispute within the EU – between the Council and the Commission – and between the Union and its States – mainly the Eastern ones – is instead the political point upon which we must focus. What is at stake is the very constitution of Europe, that is the form of Europe in next years, as a result of this constant tension to affirm the reason of the States. Every European State is feeding this tension, and the Union itself sometimes feeds it, sometimes tries to govern it, according to the circumstances. The point is not that someone is Europeanist and the others are egoist. The attempt of humiliating Greece, in fact, shows that within the Union the most brutal power sometimes claims to appear as a «benevolent» European solidarity. In this phase, the constitution of Europe is being defined at the interlacement between a tension towards centralization – whose aim is to normatively impose the decision taken on a supranational level – and a tension which use national interests as a leverage to protect the local balances of debt, labor market and welfare systems. What is at stake is, in other words, a new political economy of mobility: in a seemingly chaotic scenery, where the crisis takes contradictory shapes, it is necessary both to maximize and to capitalize the transformations that mobility causes one after the other.

What has occurred during the Brussels summit – something that was anticipated by the suspension, then suspended, of the Dublin agreements by Hungary – cannot be understood without analyzing the attempt of integrating the government of mobility on the European scale. This attempt was made through the approbation of the European agenda of migration on May the 13rd. The aim was that of technically and logistically managing the fluxes of mobility, while operating politically at the level of the labor market. Relocation, resettlement, return: these are the watchwords of the European agenda to face the so called «irregular» migratory flows and the illicit «smuggling» of migrants: the language of «smuggling» here has a specific function because – as it is in front of thousands of dead in the sea, where migrants cannot be seen but as victims (excepts when they are invaders) – it describes migration as an abuse or a criminal question, thus erasing every subjective and political meaning and oversimplifying the reality of the business of sea-crossing and the role of those who organize it even risking their lives. The Agenda is notably introduced by this observation: «the impact of global poverty and conflict do not end at national frontiers». It is therefore necessary to plan a government of poverty or, better, of the mobility caused by poverty, so as to keep together all the links of the chain, since «the boats in the Mediterranean are normally the last» of these links. We are in front of the first attempt to formulate a common migration policy whose aim is to redefine the European political space and its relationship with third countries, by involving «all actors: Member States, EU institutions, International Organisations, civil society, local authorities and third countries». By 2016 a Union standard for borders management must be established, and its name explains its objective better than the phrase migration policy. It is necessary to insist on the emphasis put on unification and coordination. Even the rescue operations – like the Frontex joint-operations Triton and Poseidon, that will require a redefinition of budgets, and the Common security and defence policy (CSDP), planned for the aim of «identifying, seizing and systematically destroying all the boats used by smugglers» – go in this same direction. The confusion between policies and police takes place not by chance. Information plays a crucial role in these operations and is conceived of as the necessity of disposing of a survey apparatus that would allow the inspection and seizure of the criminals organized through the network of «trafficking» or, as it is defined by the document disclosed by Wikileaks, «the business model of migrant smuggling networks».

This economic management of the borders is directly linked with the European Agenda on Security, that redefines European freedom in terms of defense against the threat of terrorism and the radicalization of the «cross-border crime». Therefore, it is not by chance that this managerial project gives a role of protagonist to finance: inspections will be realized in order to find and seize criminal assets and to contrast the laundering of profits made through the smuggling of migrants. These inspections will involve the financial intelligence unities but also banks, international money transfer services and the credit card issuers. Thus, the reference to criminality and terrorism made by the Agenda do not simply represent a revival of emergency and securitarian logics; on the contrary, they aim to overcome them through their integration into the new political economy of mobility. After all, emergency is recalled in order to make a clear distinction not only between refugees and economic migrants, but also among refugees, thus following the steps of those States, such as Germany, that try to solve the «problem» of asylum seekers and migrants through an artificial definition of the «safe countries of origins». The experience of migration is conceived of as an escape that is legitimate only in some specific and increasingly rigid circumstances, that are legally and politically defined, or it is rather allowed only when the market of skills requires it, as «entrepreneurship». In all cases, the distinction between asylum seekers and refuges, on the one hand, and economic migrants on the other is nothing but an instrument to introduce a degree of arbitrariness into politics that are ultimately based on the labor demand of each State, even when the relocation of refugees and asylum seekers throughout the European territory is concerned.

This seems clear when the first of the 3-R on which the Agenda is built ­– the most important for the dispute occurred during the Brussels summit – is taken into account: we are speaking of relocation, that is the immediate solution for the «massive arrivals». It is an escamotage for answering the pression of flows through «a temporary distribution scheme for persons in clear need of international protection». Member States will be responsible for the examination of the asylum seekers’ applications and their consistency with law. Above all, the agenda proposes a definition of the «redistribution key based on criteria such as GDP, size of population, unemployment rate and past numbers of asylum seekers and of resettled refugees». While, during the Brussels summit, the economic and demographic differences have been used by the single States in order to refuse whatever coactive imposition of the relocation of migrants on the European territory, the aim of the Agenda is that of turning those differences into objective reasons according to which the political decision of the European government can be normatively imposed.

The politics of resettlement moves along the same line and its goal is to distribute «quotas» of refugees and asylum seekers according to certain established criteria, in the perspective of granting legal and secure channel for arrivals while reducing the margins of humanitarian protection. The criteria according to which third countries will be classified as secure or insecure are not even mentioned. After all, this makes room for arbitrariness in order to rapidly clear out the applications that are considered illegitimate, through the device called Safe Country of Origin Provisions. Not even a word is spent about the single subjective conditions, in an historical phase in which the crisis causes high insecurities both in the North and in the South of the world, but a border quarantine system and the possibility of detaining migrants up to 18 months is planned. Border prisons and selection of the labor force are the two faces of a border management that, thanks to the Common European Asylum System, should be organized along two different lines: first, a systematic control over the application of the rules for granting asylum rights; second, the prevention of «abuses», since «too many requests are unfounded». Also in this case, the system aims to define specific guide-lines which the member State will be obliged to apply with the support of the European Asylum Support Office, whose goal is to establish a network of national units for the management of Dublin agreements. As the emphasis on the necessity to homogenize and grant the effective registration of fingerprints shows, we are in front of one of the main battlefields between Europe and its States, insofar as the latter often avoid to take fingerprints so to avoid also the duty to take care of asylum seekers imposed by Dublin II. The systematic management of fingerprinting, from this point of view, is a way of enlarging and deepening the control over migrants’ movements, when these movements challenge every day that control so much as the single States openly refused, during the last months, every attempt of political centralization of the government of mobility.

After all, while it aims to realize a process of political centralization, the European agenda is also the symptom of the difficulty to realize it. This is due not only to the reactions of the State, that continually questioned the basis of free circulation – such as Germany and the UK ­– but also to the fact that whatever political organization needs the support of member States, to which high margins of arbitrariness are left. The government of mobility is therefore a dilemma, both for the States and for Europe, because both of them need the very freedom of movement that challenge them. In other words, they are forced to govern mobility even when they do not have either the means or the political and economic strength to do it.

In front of mobility, every single State is prisoner of a double dynamics: it cannot perform its task, because it is not able to enforce a permanent and stable institutional government of mobility; at the same time, however, every State needs mobility in order to redefine its political and economic space, and is always overwhelmed by mobility. It is just this checkmate of the States which allows the European Union to claim its necessary role in finding a solution for the problem of mobility, which confirms itself as the main feature of contemporary labor both because it disarticulates the borders, and insofar as it concerns every movement of labor-force. Thus, while in the last weeks we have been watching the show of the enforcement and closure of the borders, these measures reveal insufficient and the borders themselves appear mobile: from Milan and Rome central station to Frankfurt, from the administrative practices for the renewal of residence permit to the new calls for the construction of border-walls.

Consequently, mobility is the problem and the field of unexpected transformations, of new forms of accumulation, of new shapes of social power. Mobility politically redefines the relations of power, because it is a concrete, unavoidable, ever-present possibility. The strike of the workers of the transport sector in Germany, that effectively «stopped» the country of effectiveness for weeks, and the law approved by the German parliament, are the plastic image of this governmental dynamics, which is forced to pull the reins each time they weaken. The limitation of the right to strike, in this situation, has the same meaning of border management: strike and undisciplined migrations are two faces of the same threat for the political economy of mobility, which aims to hide behind the free circulation of commodities the coercion imposed on the movements of precarious, migrants and industrial workers. For commodities, no interfering; for men and women, the most regulated domination over the conditions of their freedom.

The worst error, however, would be to think that everything takes place on the borders. Precarity, in fact, crisscrosses the borders of the European States and it points to the necessity of a new constitution of Europe. To think that migrants are simply the evidence of the existence of borders means to confine them within the same space where the European Union and its States wants to force them. Migrants are the movement which crisscrosses those borders and highlight their precarity, so much as the first transnational strike will make it clear that the borders of European precarity can be crossed.

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