Recap: ESC-YLS Colloquium: EU Borders in a Post-Colonial World

April 17, 2024

In the second event of the European Studies Council and Yale Law School colloquium series, Hans Kundnani of NYU and Chatham House and Professor Dimitry Kochenov of the CEU Democracy Institute discussed the modern-day contours of the European Union. Professor Seyla Benhabib of Columbia and Yale served as discussant and chaired the event, which took place on February 19, 2024.

Kundnani, who in 2023 released a book titled Eurowhiteness: Culture, Empire and Race in the European Project, began with an overview of 10 key arguments that he presents in the book regarding the EU’s borders. As a starting point, Kundnani notes that the EU has few natural borders, such as seas, mountains, or rivers.

“There’s a huge lack of clarity about Europe’s borders before we even come to the EU,” said Kundnani.

Another critical point reflected the fact that the Union’s southern border has hardened considerably in the past decade. Kundnani, referencing the journalist Sally Hayden’s quote regarding “the normalization of mass death in the Mediterranean,” asserted that, in effect, a “wall” has been placed in the Mediterranean to stop migrants from entering Europe. This has reinforced the idea held by many that the EU is a “white” bloc whose borders have been increasingly racialized in recent years.

Kundnani concluded his remarks with his final argument, that a clear sense of who “belongs” is currently being defined in the EU. “What’s happening is that Ukraine is very clearly being defined as being one of us… They belong to us. And, conversely, what I think is happening is that Russia is being defined as being a civilizational other for Europe, beginning with its 2014 annexation of Crimea.”

Professor Kochenov shifted the conversation to issues of citizenship, jurisdiction, and physical borders. He detailed how, despite member states maintaining formal authority, a nuanced shift has occurred, with the EU subtly gaining more control over these domains. This development has sparked concerns about potential infringements on human rights and institutional principles.

“Jurisdictional boundary was for the Board of Justice to discover and to articulate. And based on that articulation, those citizens created by the member states could acquire or not acquire some rights,” said Professor Kochenov.

He also advocated for a serious conversation about justice and spoke to the EU’s potential to become a vector of injustice. Professor Kochenov suggested a critical examination of legal and political mechanisms to keep the power of the EU in check, emphasizing the need to balance its authority with accountability to prevent systemic injustices.

“The EU is part of a circular logic of a strange ball game that makes the Union a black hole in terms of rights when dozens of thousands of people die,” Professor Kochenov maintained, referring to the tens of thousands of deaths of migrants in the Mediterranean Sea in recent years.

Following Professor Kochenov’s comments, he, Kundnani, and Professor Benhabib together discussed the issues laid out and took questions from the audience. The event was held in Luce Hall.