Fortress Europe

Bob Heurman, Rick Verschuren, Jochem Vriesema

The visual work created by us is positioned within the broader context of the ongoing refugee flows and/or immigration movements happening globally, paying special attention to Europe. Our aim was to highlight how different perceptions of the same borders emerge and are otherwise visualised depending on which side of the ‘fence’ you are on. First we will elaborate on what is meant by these perceptions. Second, to support these perceptions, we will look at Europe by the scope of two paradigms: The English School and Postcolonialism. We will end with a short conclusion.

European borders are to us Europeans hardly something worth taking into account. When crossing borders from France over into Belgium, we do not have to leave the comfort of our car nor slam the brakes. We just keep going. This is the result of the Schengen cooperation, essentially an embodiment of one of the European Union’s core values of freedom of movement, among a number of European countries (Novotná, 2018). Mention is made in Novotná’s (2018) article of how we Europeans have compensated for the abolishment of internal borders, namely through a “strengthening of [our] territorial external borders (EU agencies such as Frontex or Eurosur helping Member States on the edge of Schengen)  and [an] externalization of controls” (p. 5).

Given the difficulty of crossing the external border from the outside, has led some to refer to the Schengen area as “Fortress Europe” (Anderson, Apap, & Mulkins, 2001; Samatas, 2003). They raise concerns over the implications for free movement and the inclusion of Schengen applicants by emphasizing issues such as security and exclusion. Paoli (2016) stresses that whereas the first Schengen Convention of ’85 focused on the need for borderless movement, the emphasis has shifted towards enhanced external controls and security since the Schengen Implementation Agreement.

As can be derived from the foregoing, a lot of the scholarly debates surrounding Schengen concern the security & human rights divide with scholars, overall, perceiving “the focus on security rather than on human rights and discriminatory practices as significant weaknesses of Schengen” (Novotná, 2018, p. 9). It is precisely this aspect of Schengen, the strengthening of a “them” and “us” rhetoric through a focus on security,  that we aimed to capture with our visual work.

Previously we stated that for us Europeans, European borders are hardly something worth taking into account. However, there is a stark contrast as to what the borders of Fortress Europe, the internal as well as the external ones, seem like to us ‘insiders’ as opposed to what they seem like to ‘outsiders’.

Paradigmatic approach

With the help of English School concepts, we can see a development in which the European Union is changing towards an International Society or even a World Society. An International Society is, as Hedley Bull argued, a situation in which states share a certain common interest (usually the ‘fear of unrestricted violence’) that leads to the development of a certain set of ‘rules’ (Bull & Watson, 1984).

Regarding this definition, one can argue that the European Coal and Steel Community, in the first phase of European Integration, can be seen as an International Society. After the second world war, the European countries started to cooperate out of fear of the outbreak of another war. After more than sixty years of European integration, one can argue that that the EU has become more than just an international society, as the Union has more ambition than just a ‘set of rules’.

A world society is a step further, based on a Kantian understanding of the world, the concept of world society takes the global population as a whole as basis for a global identity (Buzan, 2004). Buzan believes that the development towards an international society and world society can also be found at the regional level (e.g., ‘the West’ and the EU) (Adler, 2005). Many English School scholars argue that the process of European integration has led to a development in which the European Union is striving towards a world society, as internal borders disappeared and as the identity of the European citizens became more ‘European’. From an English School perspective, one will perceive a map of Europe without any internal state borders, at least not within the Schengen Area.

However, looking at a European map from a Post-colonial perspective, European borders are highly visible. Territorial borders have two orders of relations: between distinct political systems and between the political system and the rest of the world (Rigo, 2005). In other words, they do not solely produce and regulate relations between states, but also immediately over the people who come from outside the political system. When considering European borders, it is necessary to think about other dimensions of the border, as to take into account the role of those who come from ‘outside’ and to understand their positions with regard to the polity’s boundaries. The difficulty, therefore, is to understand to what extent the European Union and its development towards a world society overcomes the limits of its historical (and colonial) legacy (Rigo, 2005). We argue that from a post-colonial perspective, the Map of Europe demands a different interpretation and therefore a different visual representation. We will therefore try to visualize Europe from the perspective of the refugees who fled their country and try to enter the European member states. For them, Europe can be seen as a European Fortress.


The aforementioned has been incorporated in our visual work by the creation of two different routes: that of refugees coming from Syria and that of European citizens crossing borders on their way to their holiday destination. The ability of Europeans to easily cross borders both ways, as opposed to the great difficulty experienced by refugees able to cross merely one way, is resembled by green (the colour of a traffic light signalling that you can ‘keep going’) arrows with two heads. Pictures are providing snapshots of both the refugees’ and the Europeans’ experiences along the way.


Adler, E. (2005). Barry Buzan’s Use of Constructivism to Reconstruct the English School: Not All The Way Down. Millenium, 34(1), 171-182.

Anderson, M., Apap, J., & Mulkins, C. (2001). Policy Alternatives to Schengen Border Controls on the Future EU External Frontier. Warsaw: Centre for European Policy Studies. Retrieved from

Bull, H., & Watson, A. (1984). The expansion of international society. Clarendon Press; Oxford University Press.

Buzan, B. (2004). From International to World Society?: English School Theory and the Social Structure of Globalisation. Cambridge University Press.

Novotná, M. (2018). Schengen Cooperation: What Scholars Make of It. Journal of Boderlands Studies, 1-21. doi:10.1080/08865655.2018.1457974

Paoli, S. (2016). Migration in European Integration: Themes and Debates. Journal of European Integration History, 22(2), 279-296.

Rigo, E. (2005). Citizenship at Europe’s borders: some reflections on the post-colonial condition of Europe in the context of EU enlargement. Citizenship Studies, 9(1), 4-5.

Samatas, M. (2003). Greece in “Schengenland”: Blessing or Anathema for Citizens’ and Foreigners’ Rights? Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 29(1), 141-156.