My latest piece for DIPLOMAT magazine, on the EU and its refugee/migrant crisis:

Who exactly is a citizen of state X? And what rights (if any) does a person who is not a citizen of state X have (a) to enter state X and (b) to stay there?

The answer? It depends on the rules state X adopts. All states have fences around them. In some places there might be physical fences both demarcating the state’s border and keeping out intruders. But even if there are no physical fences there are always virtual legal fences with real-life consequences: when you cross an international border you move from one defined legal jurisdiction into another.

The point is this: no-one has an untrammelled right to go to any country and live and work there. You need to ask nicely to be let in, and politely accept any conditions that may be imposed on you. Something like 1.5 billion international air passengers every year fly between states, and wait for dour local officials to confirm that indeed they have the right to enter the country as signified by the documents and proof of identity they produce. If you do not have documents they like, off you go, back where you came from.

An example. I have visited Tanzania only once, for about an hour. Back in 1989 or thereabouts as a UK diplomat based in Pretoria I stupidly arrived at the airport in Dar es Salaam to meet local officials to discuss the South African situation. My passport was all in order, but it featured a South Africa visa stamp. This showed that I had been in the hated apartheid state, so I was immediately sent packing back to Zambia on the plane I had arrived on. Boom. Gone.

… Hungary has found itself confronting significant numbers of non-EU Europeans from Kosovo who want to cross unlawfully into the EU and establish themselves there, using Hungary as the gateway to a better life. The Hungarian government led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban has not endeared itself to other EU capitals in asserting so strongly that Hungary has the right to protect its national identity. As Mr Orban himself says:

The question is not what sort of a Europe we Hungarians would like to live in, but whether what we call Europe today will continue to exist. We would like Europe to continue to belong to Europeans.

Shock! How dare he say that? But doesn’t any state in some key sense ‘belong’ to the people who are citizens of that state, and only them? Isn’t that, after all, what in fact makes a state a state?

This is an immediate existential issue for countries with relatively small populations. Take, say, Montenegro. It has some 600,000 citizens. If tens of thousands of ‘migrants’ from North Africa arrive there and demand to stay and manage to stay, it won’t be long before the unique character of that country starts to change irrevocably in ways that Montenegrin citizens won’t control for long.

This explains why it is almost impossible for someone not closely related to an Emirati citizen ever to acquire UAE citizenship. Millions of foreigners may live and work on UAE territory, but they are there on sufferance only. The Emirates are determined not to lose their control and identity by letting non-Emiratis have any chance of having a role in setting local rules. The UAE belongs to them!

Aren’t all states entitled (and wise) to follow the example of the UAE and to take whatever measures they deem necessary to defend their language and culture against what they see as unwelcome outside influences, including mass immigration of people with utterly different cultural traditions? Or is ‘national identity’ something out-dated and unpleasantly reactionary in Europe, but vibrant and legitimate everywhere else?

I think the emerging clever answer to that last question is “Yes. Europe belongs to everyone and anyone who shows up, and insofar as it has any so-called identity that identity is odious/racist/insulting by its very existence“.

What could go wrong?