Whilst the idea of Europe can have an ambivalent attitude towards borders, it is less clear that Europe as a set of political institutions can: ‘where does Europe end?’, ‘who is a member and who is not?’ are connected questions that have accompanied the European Union in every stage of its development. They have been posed usually in terms of enlargement, but recent years has seen discussions of how the European Union would deal with succession from its member states (Catalonia, Scotland...), and how it deals with the reintroduction of borders for people or goods, whether that be the suspension of the Schengen agreement or the problems Brexit potentially creates at the border of Northern Ireland.
As the European Union becomes a more assertive and coordinated global actor, and simultaneously as the EU has had to deal with global processes in a coordinated way, the nature of the distinction between the internal policies of the Union and its external policies has come under greater attention, and the intersections of accession policy, neighbourhood policy, and migration policy have become political hotspots. Furthermore, the cohesion of the European Union has come under unprecedented strain in the context of the economic crisis, and called for new uses of the EU’s instruments for cohesion (social funds principally).
Far from being a ‘post-territorial’ actor, the European Union seems to be involved in governing territory and borders in multiple ways that are directly political. What is more, the status, rights and identities of European citizens and third-country nationals are all directly affected by these questions. Do these actions reveal underlying principles of the relationship between the EU, its territory and its population, or are they ad-hoc and pragmatic? Can we develop a political theory of the EU’s relationship to its territory?