Department of Political Studies - University of Catania

Jean Monnet Chair of European Comparative Politics

Jean Monnet Working Papers in Comparative and International Politics

Federica BICCHI

European University Institute, San Domenico di Fiesole (FI)

European Security Perceptions vis à vis the Mediterranean:

Theoretical and empirical considerations from the 1990s

November 2001 - JMWP n° 39

At the beginning of February 1995, the British newspaper The Independent reported an interview with Willy Claes, then NATO’s Secretary-General, in which he identified Islamic fundamentalism and weapons proliferation in North Africa and the Middle East as two of the most important post-Cold war challenges facing the West. In the same article, NATO was reported to have created a new working group on the risks of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the area, and to plan a dialogue with North African and Middle Eastern countries, in order to tackle security issues [1]. This case was only the last of a long series. As the Cold War ended, several voices in Western and European countries pointed to the Mediterranean as a new hostility frontier. While Europe reunited over the ashes of communist regimes, a new cleavage seemed to appear at its Southern border that apparently called for a shift of resources from the East to the South. Following the September 11 terrorist attacks against the USA, security perceptions have become even more accentuated. Therefore, it becomes particularly important to construct an analytical framework capable of examining both security perceptions, changes in these perceptions, and capable of describing European security perceptions towards Southern Mediterranean countries on the eve of the attack. 

The menace at the time seemed less definite and, as a result, more difficult to defeat than the previous Soviet one. Policy- and opinion-makers shared a broad consensus that economic and social issues were at stake, but other voices raised military questions or environmental problems such as pollution in the Mediterranean. Moreover, while states were seen as the key political actors during the Cold war period, transnationalism seemed to prevail in its aftermath. Transantional issues such as migration and the environment emphasised interdependence. It was not possible to separate the 'enemy' from friends and allies. As a consequence, there was and still is difficulty in ‘naming the enemy,’ i.e., in defining the type of threats and the structure of the new security game. It thus appeared even more difficult for European countries to address Mediterranean challenges in an effective way.

How can the apparently new security challenges that entered European perceptions after the end of the Cold War be defined? How are events in the early 1990s in Euro-Mediterranean relations to be understood and what did they mean for regional actors? Did a real threat from the South exist? If so, then what kind of threat was it and does it persist? This paper aims to provide an answer to these questions. It develops an analytical framework which is then applied to European security perceptions of Mediterranean challenges after the Cold war.

The paper’s first section briefly summarises the post-Cold war debate on security. The second section develops a two-dimensional typology to measure change in security perceptions. Section three applies this typology to Euro-Mediterranean relations, beginning with the military aspects of the post-Cold war period. In section four I focus on migration before considering, in section five, so-called Islamic fundamentalism, terrorism, trade exchanges and environmental challenges. The concluding section returns to the analysis of security and the utility of the typology developed for the Euro-Mediterranean case.

Changes in the definition of security after the Cold war

Security studies have not been the same since the end of the Cold War. Key taken-for granted concepts were questioned and re-evaluated in the light of international developments. The focus on nuclear weaponry, East/West relations and the security problems of the US and Western Europe, which dominated the Cold war era, were now considered to be too narrow and rigid (Baldwin 1995). Scholars stressed the need to ask new questions, seek new answers and broaden the research agenda of security and strategic studies because it seemed to have less contemporary relevance. Already in the early 1980s, pioneers such as Ullman (1983) and Buzan (1983/1991) had criticised the monopoly held by military issues and called for a thorough revision of themes to be addressed. However, it it was not until the end of the Cold war order that “new policy problems and new research puzzles” emerged (Walt 1991, 222), triggering a revolution in the way security was conceived and analysed.

The key issue has been the definition of security (Baldwin 1997, 5; Aggestam and Hyde-Price 2000, 4; see also Lipschutz 1995) [2]. The answers have ranged from a reassertion of traditional frameworks of analysis (e.g. Walt 1991) to the development of avanguarde movements based on post-structural or gender perspectives (e.g. Huysmans 1998, Zalewski 1995). A classification of these contributions draws a distinction between attempts to ‘vertically’ deepen the analysis, to identify sub- and supra-state subjects, and attempts to ‘horizontally’ broaden the focus, to include a wider range of potential threats (Krause and Williams 1996, 229-30). Attempts to deepen the analysis along a ‘vertical’ axis, relate to the potential referent objects of insecurity, i.e. ‘what is being secured’ (Lipschutz 1995, 14). The traditional referent object has been the state, but its centrality has been questioned as new objects like the individual or society have been identified (e.g. Booth 1991, 319, ff.; Mutimer 1999, 84; Buzan, Wæver, de Wilde 1998). Attempts to ‘horizontally’ broaden the focus have explored the possibility of escaping from the limited military perspective. Scholars have pointed to a large number of sectors that could endanger the security of different referent objects. Recent suggestions indicated the environment and the ruthless exploitation of natural resources as causes of troubles (e.g. Tuchman Mathews 1989), international economic security, citizens’ welfare and governments’ stability (Cable 1995, 305-6; Crawford 1995). 

Parallel to the debate about the definition of security, the arrival of constructivism and post-modernism presented scholars with new theoretical and analytical challenges. Constructivist approaches to security questioned the existence of a ‘natural’ threat and instead examined how security and security threats were constructed, through discourse and practice (e.g. Adler 1998). Post-modernists have stressed the importance of language in the definition of what is security (e.g. Campbell 1992). As a consequence, there are three possible alternatives to the meaning of “threat” or “challenge,” which roughly represent three points on a continuum going from scholars supporting the view of a real-reality to those who believe in pure language. 

The first possibility emphasizes the existence of a “real” threat. This is the position of classical realists like Walt. In his analysis of what constitutes a threat he underlines four factors: aggregate power, proximity, offensive capability, and offensive intentions (1985, 8-13). Only the last point (offensive intentions) hints to the importance of mutual understandings and communication, while the three previous points are objective factors. The second possibility, privileges the analysis of perceptions of threats. Scholars in this tradition maintain that a threat would not exist as such unless it was perceived as a threat. This concept was first stressed by Wolfers (1962, 150), who paralleled the objective dimension of threats with their subjective dimension (see also Wæver various). The third possibility reflects fully the linguistic turn in social sciences and suggests that a threat depends on the enunciation of security. It is making the choice to speak of a problem in terms of security that makes it a threat (e.g. Huysmans 1998).

These developments provide an interesting research agenda for Euro-Mediterranean relations in general and European security perceptions towards the Southern Mediterranean in particular. The first point, as raised by the ‘deepening’ debate, points to the referent object and contributes to shed light on why, in spite of the non-existent threat to European states, there has been a persistent uneasiness in Europeans’ attitude, as it raises the issue of perceptions of people and their effects on governments. This point, however, will find only a marginal treatment in this paper, because of the problems of comparison that a too context-specific approach would trigger. My focus will be on the perception of informed public opinion, assuming that it represents the larger public and affects governmental positions. Second, the possibility of different types of security challenges is also a very useful perspective, which explains why, though no real military threat exists, NATO officials can consider the Mediterranean as a fault line. Third, I will explore European security perceptions by assuming that they might focus on different issues at different points in time. I will focus on perceived threats, thus following the indications of Wolfers about an objective and a subjective component of a threat. On these bases, we can draw a typology of perceived threats, their nature and their relevance in the eyes of the referent object.

Two dimensions to measure security perceptions

Elaborating on the previous considerations and drawing on the work by Buzan, Wæver and de Wilde (1998), this section will analyse how security can be defined in such a way that it permits operationalisation for empirical research. Two axes will be sketched along which security perceptions can be defined and measured. These perceptions are 'sticky' in the sense that they become fixed in practices and discourses. The practical effect of this is that the crystallisation that took place after the Cold War is likely to endure. Therefore, what I am going to depict is the constellation of security perceptions which will continue to affect Euro-Mediterranean relations in the new millennium.

The axes along which security perceptions can be represented can be linked to two criteria. 

(I)    Issue relevance – represents a quantitative dimension, according to the relevance of an issue in the public discourse and practice. From this perspective, an issue can range from “non-politicisation” to “securitisation” (Buzan, Wæver and de Wilde 1998, 25). 

(II) Issue nature – represents a qualitative dimension, referring to the nature and type of interactions (i.e. of sector) affected by the perceived threat. 

Both hypotheses are based on security perceptions, by which I mean the definition of what is at stake according to informed public opinion in Europe, as reflected by public debate at that moment in time (Wæver 1995, 54-57) and by the practices governments enact. 

The first hypothesis centres on the changing relevance of an issue or a set of issues. This was first suggested by Wolfers (1962, 147-165) and has since been analysed in depth by Wæver (1995) and by Buzan, Wæver and de Wilde (1998, 25). Security means “survival in the face of an existential threat” (Buzan et al. 1998, 27), but what represents an existential threat depends on how political élites, and, more generally, the political community see an issue. They might consider an issue to belong to the private sphere, thus requiring no public debate and no public intervention. They might on the contrary believe that an issue is a public matter, on which a public policy should be formulated by the government or by the EC/EU. Within the public sphere, a special place is devoted to issues which not only should be addressed by public authority, but are also perceived as representing “an existential threat, requiring emergency measures and justifying actions outside the normal bounds of political procedure” (Buzan et al. 1998, 24). These issues are security issues. Therefore, securitisation, i.e. “the move that takes politics beyond the established rules of the game,” (23) and into the domain of security, is an extreme form of politicisation. It is an act of imperium in the highest sense, along the lines of Schmitt’s exceptionalism. Securitisation is about going beyond day-to-day politics. What characterises the entry of an issue into the public sphere is a public debate on it and the recognition by public authorities of a responsibility for handling the matter, thus leading to the adoption of public policies by routine means. What characterises the shift, inside the public sphere at large, from the simple politicisation area to the securitisation area is not only the public indication of an existential threat, but also the request for emergency measures, which are at least partially granted [3] The perception of a danger is expressed through the vocabulary of existential threat and emergency measures, to which a practice of emergency action follows. This is consistent with what I defined as the indicators of perceptions: public debate and consistent practices. 

Indicators for the shift from the private to the public sphere are, therefore, the public debate and the formulation of a public initiative along routine lines. Public debate occurs in newspapers, official speeches of governmental or EC/EU representatives, and in the academic literature most sensitive to the concerns of the time. Public initiatives are codified in governmental or EC/EU policy making. Indicators of the shift from politicisation to securitisation are to be found in the same locations, but it is the tone which is different: it urges extraordinary action to prevent the existential threat occurring, thus opening the way for a legitimate breach of the rules. This is and remains, in my opinion, a subjective measure, whose validity can only be tested by assessing how convincing other scholars judge it to be. No ‘scientific’ measure of emergency can be found, as it is too dependent on the context and on the definition of ‘normality’ prevailing within a given political community at a given time. Buzan, Wæver and de Wilde suggest several possibilities, ranging from secrecy procedures, levying taxes or conscription, or placing limitations on otherwise inviolable rights (21-22, 24). Others can be added to this list, such as public intervention in the economy or increases in border controls for a limited period of time. However, the emergency solution depends on the context, on the problem and on the actors affected by the securitised issue, thus making it difficult to generalise a priori.

In theory, all issues can change in relevance and be securitised. It can be argued that the most interesting achievement of this approach is that it decouples the existence of arms and military equipment from the idea of threat and security. The sheer presence of arms and armies is not enough to define a security problem. The crucial difference is the understanding by the political community of what security problems are. This point can be explained by using a paradox. It could be maintained that during the Cold War, US tanks and nuclear weapons were not a security problem for the Europeans, while the smaller numbers held by the Soviet Union were. The perception and the understanding of the challenge thus prevails over the nature of the issue at stake. This is most apparent for the military sector, although Buzan, Wæver and de Wilde call for a partial exception for this sector because they suggest that a security problem can be institutionalised and that this is the typical case for issues of a military nature (27-28). They argue that if a given type of threat is recurrent or persistent, the response and the sense of urgency can be institutionalised. In the military sector, the urgency is always present, but it might not be dramatised and the response to it might rely on a bureaucratic military establishment. However, in my view, institutionalisation is very similar to ‘routinisation,’ i.e. the de-securitisation of an issue. If emergency practices become a routine, my interpretation is that new daily rules have been created. Accordingly, institutions and international alliances in the military sphere are created exactly to tame and domesticate the danger of unforeseen developments, which could lead to a condition of emergency. Therefore, when testing the hypothesis relating to changes in the relevance of issues in Euro-Mediterranean relations, I will try to avoid any bias in favour of military aspects being considered as security issues. Instead, I focus on the sense of emergency and on the exceptionality of the measures demanded. This is also consistent with the slippery nature of security in the Mediterranean, which has been placed as far from the military sector as… in the civilisations’ sector, by Huntington (1993, 1996).

In order to pin down the subtleties of Mediterranean security, I further refine the distinction between no politicisation/politicisation/securitisation that I have drawn from Buzan and his collegues, by introducing two sub-categories: low securitisation and high securitisation. This is necessary because an aspect of European security perceptions is most likely to concentrate around the conceptual border between politicised and securitised issues. It is almost uncontroversial that there is a security problem in the Mediterranean. Yet, it is equally widely accepted that existential threats seriously menacing the existence of whatever referent object in Europe have never occurred. Although we will examine this situation in detail in the following chapters, the common knowledge about Euro-Mediterranean relations already warns us that things will not be simple to sort out. 

Therefore, I suggest to further divide within the securitisation area by using a distinction which goes back again to Wolfers (1962, 150). According to his perspective, perceptions of the vulnerability to threats are only partially connected to perceptions of threats. While the former refers to the degree of protection of the political community/ies under examination, the latter is related to conditions beyond their reach. Vulnerability refers to the cohesion and openness of a system vis à vis external relations and threats (cf. Buzan 1991, 113-14). When analysed for instance in the economic context, vulnerability can be described in terms of dependency of a certain sector on external supplies/demands or more specifically dependency on an external supplier/purchaser, as in the case of European dependence on Arab oil in the 1970s (cf. Cable 1995; Crawford 1995, 161). Protection of the perceived vulnerabilities can be guaranteed through specific policies of the actor. The actor’s vulnerability might be directly improved by the contribution of an internal actor in charge of the provision of security (generally the state), or by an external actor to which the provision of security is delegated, as with the US nuclear guarantee of Western Europe during the Cold War. Threats, on the contrary, are associated with the intentions of others that affect a referent object within the boundaries of the polity (cf. Crawford 1995, 156). They can be perceived as particularly strong or persistent or intentionally aggressive. A whole world opens up, of possible interpretations of what is happening ‘out there’ in the mind of foreign regimes. Thus, the intensity of the perceived threat can change too. Therefore, both vulnerability and threat vary along a low/high continuum, which is related to security. Only when both are high, will I define an issue as belonging to the high securitisation type. The analysis will be done on the aspects, which prevail in the public discourse.

In summary, we have four possible types of issues:

1. A private sphere issue that is not politicized, i.e., not mentioned in public debate

2. An issue that enters the public sphere and is politicised, i.e., covered by the public debate and public authorities accept responsibility for tackling it 

3.An issue is securitised, i.e., perceived and represented as an existential threat, which requires and at least partially receives emergency measures. This encompasses the following cases:

A.The issue is seen as more vulnerable than threatened or more threatened than vulnerable (low security issue)

B.The issue is seen as both vulnerable and threatened (high security issue)

In a classification, the changing relevance could be expressed as follows:

Table 1: Degrees of relevance of an issue

  no politicisation politicisation securitisation
ow                high
relevance of issue        

Therefore, when analysing the security challenges originating from the Mediterranean as perceived in Western Europe, I look for declarations by political élites and of public opinion as in the mass media, in order to detect:

· The appearance of an issue (politicisation);

· The call for emergency measures (securitisation) to protect a vulnerable and/or threatened referent object (low/high securitisation). 

· Practices that support the public debates, which can take the form either of policy formulation (politicisation), or of measures outside routine politics, which might entail some use of force (securitisation). 

Having developed my typology as it applies to issue relevance, I now move on to develop the second dimension of my typology: issue nature and the type of interactions at stake. By this I mean, the sectors that can potentially be endangered by security breaches. Even at a superficial glance, the challenges originating from the Southern Mediterranean countries are not easily framed in military terms. There is indeed a large literature about the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, but all the contributions emphasise the indirect impact that this might have on the Southern European countries (Khader 1994; Aliboni 1996; Tanner 1996). Challenges of a non-military nature occupy the centre stage and demand an appropriate explanation. 

If we accept, that security is a multifaceted concept then what are its key dimensions? According to Buzan (1991) who, together with Wæver and others (Wæver et al. 1993; Buzan, Wæver, de Wilde 1998), systematised a wider set of contributions, security can be divided in five sectors, according to the different relationship which prevails, within each sector, between the threat(s), the referent object (the target of the threat) and its perception of vulnerabilities, and the securitising actors. The military sector centres on relationships of forceful coercion, which are the traditional core of national and regional security concerns. In this case, the referent object is the state, whose sovereignty and territorial integrity are imperilled by an external threat and defended by the ruling élites. The political sector, which is conceptually very close to the military sector, focuses on the relationships of authority, governing status and recognition. What is at stake, here, is the social order and the organisational stability of the governance structure. It could be represented by the territorial state, but also by the EU or transnational movements, which come under attack in their internal or external legitimacy from an external ideology (in a broad sense). The economic sector encompasses relationships of trade, production and finance and analyses how dependence on external supplies constitutes a vulnerability, in case of interruptions of imports or, more generally, of threats to the welfare of the people [4]. The environmental sector too refers to the welfare and wellbeing of the citizens, though in the specific setting of the natural environment. The societal sector, on the contrary, is concerned with the collective identity of the political entity under examination and the referent objects are the groupings which can legitimately demand the institutional protection of the polity from threats which challenge their identity and cohesion [5]. In other words, these five sectors centre on a different value/issue, which constitutes a security relationship.

It is important here to stress two points. The first are the distinctions and possible overlappings between the concepts of referent object and securitising actor. As already pointed out, the two concepts define different roles in the security arena. The referent object is the target of the threat and defines what type of relationship is endangered by the external challenge. The securitising actor is the actor in charge of neutralising the menace and of guaranteeing protection to the referent object. As specified above, in this research the securitising actor is defined as governments of member states and the EC/EU institutions in general. Therefore, by definition, the task of securitising and desecuritising (indicating a threat and acting to defuse it) falls within the domain of public responsibilities. As a consequence, in the case of the military and political sectors, securitising actors are also the referent objects of the threats. In these two sectors, member states and EC/EU institutions are targeted by the challenge and are directly responsible for hammering out an answer to it. In the other sectors this overlap between the securitising actor and referent object does not exist, as governments of member states and EC/EU institutions are in charge of providing protection for the welfare of people (economic sector), the wellbeing of citizens in relation to the natural environment (environmental sector), the collective identity of the political community (societal sector). 

The second point requiring clarification is the fact that here again, these distinctions are subjective and are open to discussion. Whereas the basic definition of the various sectors sound quite clear-cut, large grey areas emerge in empirical analysis that are difficult to settle in an unquestionable way. What I will do, in the empirical research, is make the choice about in which sector an issue falls in as explicit way as possible, in order for the reader to have a clear idea of the reasons for the final choices.

It is, therefore, possible to establish a classification indicating the location of a given issue within a sector, once again through discourses and practices.

Table 2: Type of nature of an issue

nature of 

 Tables 1 and 2 can be combined, such as in Table 3,  to create a typology encompassing both issue relevance and issue nature.

Table 3: Typology of issues according to their relevance and nature 

relevance of issue

nature of issue



low                high


By using this typology, we can range issues relating to European security perceptions of threats originating in the Mediterranean, according to their relevance and nature, at a given point in time. In other words, this grid facilitates the development of a profile of European security perceptions, because the typology classifies different discourses about security identity and the Self-Other relation. It also indicates which issues are perceived as relevant in the relation with the Southern rim and therefore helps clarify what kind of images of the Other and therefore of the Self are at stake in European politics when addressing the Southern neighbours. As such, this typology enshrines only part of the rich texture of Euro-Mediterranean relations, even more so as by definition it focuses only on European perceptions and tends to be biased towards the European official discourse about politicised/securitised issues. It leaves out the perception of the Southern rim and therefore all the feedback effects and the interaction which have taken place. It could be further developed to stress the relevance of civil society or specific groups. Having said that, this typology has the merit of making it possible to pin down the profile and evolution of European security perceptions and the different profiles and definition of who the Other has been for European security identity. We already know that, shortly before the creation of the EEC, most of the Southern Mediterranean countries were colonies and, during the Second World War, they turned into allies/enemies and logistic bases for military and political operations of Western countries. When the EC founding treaties were signed, member states and the Mediterranean non-member countries tried to establish a relationship based on trade, while the region became part of the Cold War security context. As the threat of the Soviet Union faded, relations with the Southern Mediterranean countries seemed to deteriorate and it was said that they represented the new enemy. In these terms, therefore, this typology will have fulfilled its role if it contributes to a better understanding of the state of Euro-Mediterranean relations according to post-Cold War European security perceptions.

Geography and the end of the Cold War: new perceptions or new dangers?

As the Cold War era ended, relations between Europe and its Southern neighbours changed in several ways (cf. Satloff 1997, 9). The end of the East/West opposition freed security considerations from foreign policy analysis and opened the debate about domestic politics and the economies of Southern Mediterranean countries [7]. During the Cold War, the main concern of Western countries was dictated by foreign policy allegiances of potential allies or enemies. Either affiliation with a bloc or non-alignment represented the key security alternatives in Euro-Mediterranean relations at the time. The security perceptions of Europeans in the early years of the Cold War were heavily conditioned by the ideological proximity between Arab nationalism and communism in foreign policy towards former colonial powers. The security problématique underwent a dramatic change in this respect when international alliances lost their importance following the collapse of the Soviet Union. There were two main consequences. First, the strategic relevance of the Mediterranean diminished. Second, pledges of friendship towards European countries, though the only possibility left for Southern Mediterranean countries, were not enough to appease European security concerns. Domestic socio-economic and political characteristics, in the form for example of economic policies or mobilisation by Islamic fundamentalists became a main focus of European analysis. Stability of regimes and of macroeconomic parameters was often regarded as the new key security issue, while sea pollution was also indicated as a crucial challenge. It was as if a veil had been lifted and domestic structures and policies had appeared naked to European examination. While what the Europeans saw did not represent a novelty for Southern Mediterraneans, it had a fresh impact on European security perceptions.

On the whole, the terms of European security changed quite radically according to European perceptions. The communist threat, which had already diminished in the 1970s and 1980s, eventually disappeared. Hence, the military dimension of security for European countries was drastically downsized, given that Southern Mediterranean countries, though maintaining powerful armaments, lost the possibility to count on resources of an external superpower. At the same time, new challenges appeared, or rather were perceived by the Europeans. Migration and Islamic fundamentalism became new security concerns towards which European countries focussed their attention, as will be analysed in the next sections. Terrorism, which had already been placed in the low security area in the early 1970s, maintained a political character, although it acquired a new meaning in connection with migration and Islamic fundamentalism. In different forms, ‘otherness’ was perceived to have landed on European soil or to be putting pressure at the borders. Geography thus reclaimed its full importance after decades during which spatial dimensions were flattened by the magnitude of ideological conflict.

The most dramatic desecuritisation process occurred in the military sphere. The Western reorientation of the anti-communist military apparatus met with a limited regional striking capacity of Southern Mediterranean countries, which could not count anymore on the support of the Soviet Union. Reorganisation of NATO structure in the post-Cold war period entailed the rebuilding of the Allied Forces Southern Europe (AFSOUTH), which has had, among its tasks, containment toward the South (Gama 1995, 189). Moreover, the VIth Fleet of the US remained in the area, while Southern European countries instituted several initiatives like EUROFOR and EUROMARFOR [7]. Therefore, part of the military arsenal which was previously oriented against the Soviet menace, was redirected against the Southern ‘arc of crisis’ (Lesser 1995, 22). Southern Mediterranean countries, though constituting the perfect seedbed for the spreading of weapons of mass destruction and unconventional armaments, did not represent a structured threat to European countries, nor were their military capabilities perceived as a serious military challenge. The main military risks, in fact, in the Mediterranean remained South-South, rather than North-South, although regional rivalries could indirectly affect Europe. In fact, the literature agreed on the indirect impact of military threats (Khader 1994; Aliboni 1996; Tanner 1996). The general opinion in military circles was that the nature of the challenges originating from the Mediterranean was not military [8].

The challenge of migration

Migration was, on the contrary, the hottest new debate in Euro-Mediterranean relations in the late 1980s and early 1990s framed as a threat to the security of European citizens. While in the 1960s and early 1970s migration had been instrumental to economic development in the Northern European countries, a radical change in European perceptions took place between the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s. Migration made it to the front pages of newspapers, as the importance of the problem was described to public opinion. The debate among policy- and opinion-makers tended to represent migrants as a manifold threat to the physical security, wealth and cultural traditions of European citizens. A purported ‘flood’ of immigrants seemed to feed a collective sense of insecurity. The increasing uneasiness of Europeans towards migrants raises a number of questions in term of security. Did migration from Southern Mediterranean countries in the later 1980s and early 1990s represent a real danger for European citizens? Did it acquire unprecedented proportions or was it perceived to do so? Did it become a security issue, in the sense of requiring emergency measures to protect from the threats it represented? Or was it simply a hot political debate? I will argue that migration did enter the security sphere or, in other words, it was securitised, although many qualifications are needed. By the early 1990s, the issue was framed in Europe in terms of low security and referred to with the key features of security matters: high saliency in the political debate, perception of vulnerability or threats, and few emergency measures to control the phenomenon. 

During the 1980s, Northern European countries experienced a change in migration flows that rendered migrants more visible in societies. Northern European countries have been receiving countries since the Second world war. In the 1950s, a network of bilateral agreements were established between the industrial countries in need of manpower and those with labour to supply (Salt 1976, 99). While France maintained a close relationship with former African territories, it also signed agreements with Greece, Spain, Portugal, Turkey and Yugoslavia [9]. Western Germany had fewer but stronger agreements, among which the most important were with Turkey and Yugoslavia. The recession of 1973 put an end to this policy of active recruitment, as Northern European countries sought to limit immigration from the South. Restrictions on worker immigration were imposed, return policy enacted and labour recruitment offices abroad shut down (King 1993, 29). As a consequence, immigration of workers dramatically dropped, as Figure 1 shows for the cases of France and Germany. However, many ‘guest’ workers were there to stay (Rogers 1985), making it impossible to sever ties between sending and receiving countries. In the late 1970s and more so in the 1980s, family reunification (or ‘secondary’ migration) substituted workers migration, as shown in Table 4 [10]. Migrant workers and their families began to build new lives for themselves in the receiving countries, becoming “part of the social and cultural fabric of modern Western Europe” (Geddes 2000, 20), but also creating problems of social integration. Moreover, as a consequence of tighter law provisions, illegal migration rose, together with the numbers of real and “bogus” asylum seekers. All considered, the total amount of migrants inflows actually diminished, but the visibility of the residents increased, as well as the social problems which arose as societies (and no longer economies) struggled to accommodate the ‘new’ settlers and to reject undocumented migrants (Hargreaves 1995, 18-19).


Figure 1: Immigration of workers into France and West Germany, 1960, 1970, 1980

Source: Salt (1976, 89, 92, 93) and King (1993, 25)


Table 4: Females as percentage of selected nationalities in France 1946-90








French 53.1 52.6 51.9 51.8 51.8 51.8 51.8

























































Source: Hargreaves 1995, 16

At the same time, Southern European countries experienced similar difficulties, although the terms of the problem were different. Italy, Spain, Greece and Portugal, which were well established emigration countries since the nineteenth century, went through a radical change during the 1980s and became immigration countries (Montanari and Cortese 1993, 218-23; King 2000, 3). Traditionally, Southern European countries had been sending migrants to the four corners of the globe [11], including Northern European economies, where they contributed to industrial development, alongside with migrants resorting from most of the other Mediterranean countries: Yugoslavs, Turks and North Africans. Before the 1980s, almost the whole of the Mediterranean Basin functioned in the same way as a ‘reserve army of labour’ for Northern and Western European industries (Castles and Kosack 1973). However, in Southern European countries, emigration started to drop in the late 1960s and early 1970s (Montanari and Cortese 1993, 218), giving way in time to return migration. Figure 2 shows a rough estimate emphasising the timing and direction of flows. The new trend of immigration begun in the 1970s and gathered momentum particularly at the end of the 1980s and in the early 1990s. “For the first time in their history, Southern European countries became a magnet for a growing quantity of immigrants” (King 2000, 8), large part of which came from North Africa. Italy, Spain, Greece and Portugal had turned into receiving countries [12]. Therefore, although the percentage of both flows and stocks of residents on the total of the population was much less in Southern European countries than in traditional receiving countries [13], they experienced a revolution in their traditional pattern of population flows, having to address for the first time issues linked to immigration. 

Figure 2: Evolution of international migration trends in Southern Europe since 1950

Source: King (2000, 6)


For both Northern and Southern European countries, the future did not look better, as the demography of Southern Mediterranean societies seemed to defy any attempt to block migrants from crossing borders. In the 1980s, demographic growth in the Mediterranean region remained high, especially on its Southern shore (see Table 5). Falling mortality rates, especially children mortality’s, matched with continued high birth rates, and was leading to “population explosion” in developing countries. As a result, the population in the Southern rim passed from ca. 97 million in 1970 to over 191 million in 1990 [14]. A large number of already born children were expected to arrive on the job market in the 1990s but, given the poor economic performance of these countries, they were unlikely to find a job (Montanari and Cortese 1993, 224; Giubilaro 1998, 65). High unemployment was bound to create either a pressure to emigrate or domestic instability both scenarios endangering European security. In fact, there were also signs that the phenomenon was diminishing, as shown in Table 5 [15]. But the point was: how fast? Most of the projections still showed a substantial increase in the populations in the years to come. According to the projections of the UN in 1994 [16], the population in the Southern Mediterranean countries would have almost doubled by 2025, reaching the figure of ca.356 million people [17]. Although these exercises in forecasts are of limited value [18], they substantiated the debate by attaching numbers to opinions.

Table 5: Population’s increase rates in selected countries, in percentage






























Source: Giubilaro 1998, 54-55


The visibility of migrants in Northern Europe, the new status of receiving countries in Southern Europe and, the supposed grim prospects all contributed to and fed discourses about migration centring on the necessity for state control, which can be seen as the attempt par excellence to neutralise a security threat (Huysmans 1995, 59). In fact, two discourses emerged throughout European countries (Brochmann and Hammer 1999, 12). 

A first discourse focused on boundary control. Governments attempted to limit legal immigration by restricting entries, while police at the frontiers strove to prevent illegal immigration thanks to newly acquired powers [19]. A second discourse evolved around internal order. It addressed social integration or assimilation of resident migrants into receiving societies, together with the repression of violent forms of rejection of immigrants by the extreme right. Both discourses coexisted, although the emphasis shifted according to the specific history and problems of a given country. As administrative measures failed to cope with the inflows and with the problems connected to migrant residents, the political debate about the responsibilities of the state put forward several variations on the original themes: reinforcing the external and internal controls, redefining the categories of the ‘acceptable’ migrants, or launching projects to anchor potential immigrants to their homelands. At the core, the debate aimed to re-establish the distinction between 'Us' and 'Them' on which Western European communities were built [20]. However, the targets set were impossible to reach, if only because it is impossible for liberal states to fully control populations. Governments found themselves trapped by their own promises of perfect security via complete control. Therefore, discourses of control and internal order were continuously reinforced and reinstated, thus entering a spiral, which eventually led to the security domain. Through failing attempts to control it, migration climbed the ladder of relevance until it entered the security domain.

The interplay between policy practices and security discourses took place not only within member states [21], but also at the European level too. The first major step in this direction came with the signature of the Schengen agreement, in June 1985, on the part of France, Germany and the Benelux countries. Prompted by protests of lorry drivers because of delays at the Franco-German frontier, the agreement logically flew from the principle of free circulation of people on which the Single Market was founded (Geddes 2000, 80ff.). entailed an increased cooperation among participant states to harmonise (and reinforce) their external border while phasing out internal controls. Governments were to adopt ‘compensatory measures,’ which in practice meant yet another increase in mobilisation of security and internal control systems (Brochmann 1999, 308), as well as in visa restrictions. Since the adoption of the Schengen agreement, the debate has continued in international fora (Cagiano de Azevedo 1994, 5). The G7, the OECD (Rome, March 1991), the Council of Europe (Wien, January 1991), among others, addressed migratory issues in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The WEU too included migration in the list of ‘general [security] problems’ in Euro-Mediterranean relations to which attention had to be paid  [22]. In May 1991, the European Parliament passed a resolution about the role of Europe in relation to security in the Mediterranean [23]. In it, “population explosion and increasing migration” (p.294) were mentioned among the causes of destabilisation of Southern Mediterranean and the EC was called to regulate the growing volume of migration. In October 1991, the Commission joined the debate [24]. Seeking to combine realism and solidarity, its contribution elaborated on the usual terms of demographic pressure, control, restriction and integration of the residents. It indicated European foreign policy AS a key instrument to ease ‘migratory pressures’.

Not only the relevance of migration, but also its nature as a security issue was also a novelty, as the referent object of the security challenge was mainly society (Buzan and Roberson 1993). Migration dovetailed with a broad range of concerns about the economic, political and strategic environment in which governments and societies operated (Collinson 2000, 302). It was at times seen as a threat to economic well being and a burden on the welfare system (Bommes and Geddes 2000). Migrants were often seen as competing in the labour market with the local population, at a time of deepening economic recession (Venturini 1994, 15-16; Baganha 1998). Moreover, immigrants were associated by several with problems to public order and to political instability. Thefts, drug trafficking and, as we will examine in detail, terrorism affected in a disproportionate manner the perception of public opinion and media, as shown for instance in the case of Spanish population (Cornelius et al. 1994, 366-67). At the same time, xenophobia and extreme right-wing parties provoked an equal - if not stronger - sense of insecurity in the population and polarised the debate. Violence against foreigners, be they Turks in Germany or North Africans in France or Italy, spread from traditional to new immigration countries. More generally, migration was perceived as a threat to national sovereignty and to national identity (Tsardanidis and Guerra 2000; Bigo 1998; Huysmans 1995). Migrant trafficking was declared by countries such as Italy, Spain and Greece as a security threat, as their borders seemed to be impossible to defend from incursions (Tsardanidis and Guerra 2000, 332-33). Identity too appeared to be attacked by the difficulties to integrate residents of immigrant origin. As we will see in the next section, Islam seemed to be the main hurdle to the assimilation of migrants originating from Southern Mediterranean countries, thus allegedly creating an irreconcilable ‘clash of civilisations’ on European soil. 

All these potential threats or challenges, however, have in my opinion, as the main referent object societal well being. Although scholars like Collinson (2000, 308-9) have emphasised the importance of the political ramifications of popular perceptions, still the referent object remained society. It was society that governments strove to protect by adopting emergency measures. It was society that expressed the fears vis à vis the threats which it perceived. Therefore, among all the possible classifications, the most representative one is to be found in the societal sector of security, which constituted the main core towards which migration posed a security challenge.

This survey has shown that in the European countries, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, 1) the relevance in security terms of migration increased until it was securitised, 2) but, on average, migration was a low security issue, and 3) it remained a highly volatile problématique. Migration shifted along the political, low security and high security continuum across Europe. While concerns in Italy (and especially in Apulia) about mass arrivals of Albanians or Kurds were definitely a matter of high security, the same events were perceived differently in neighbouring countries. As correctly emphasised by Collinson (2000, 318), “the threshold which distinguishes matters of political interest or importance from matters of security (is) almost entirely context-specific.” However, it is my opinion that, on average, it can be maintained that migration, at the beginning of the 1990s, became an issue of low security. Moreover, it was framed in terms that made society the main target of the threat, thus justifying the inclusion of migration in the societal sector, as scholars have suggested.

Islamic fundamentalism, terrorism and other European fears

Migration came to be seen as a security issue also because of the politicisation of another issue, which was seen as having partial connections with migration: Islamic fundamentalism. In European perceptions of challenges originating from the Mediterranean, this is the second issue that became significantly more important in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In that period, relations between the ‘Muslim world’ and ‘the West’ became deeply affected by Islamic resurgence and by the visions of policy- and opinion-makers raising the spectre of the threat of ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ or of an impending clash of civilisations (Esposito 1999, 94). Islamic fundamentalism was depicted in European debates as a highly salient political issue and was at times even treated as a security issue. The challenge or the threat it allegedly posed to Europe was supposed to exist on two fronts. First, Islamic fundamentalists in Arab countries were thought to challenge not only Western-friendly regimes in their countries, but also the West in general. If they were to arrive to power, fundamentalists were expected to openly confront European countries. Second, there was a fear that the Islamic resurgence could spread into Muslim communities within Europe, thus disrupting any attempt to integrate immigrants and creating a dangerous ‘fifth column’ at Europe’s core. In both respects, Islamic fundamentalism was politicised as a clear-cut challenge to the political order that Europeans envisaged within and outside their borders. It was (and is) ‘demonised’ to an extent not matched during the Cold War and as such it constituted a new element in Euro-Mediterranean relations.

The external dimension of the perceived danger surfaced at the time of the Gulf War, which showed a multitude of people and even some Arab regimes siding with Saddam Hussein against the US-led coalition (Moratinos 1999, 40). The Gulf War caused a deep trauma in the Muslim-Arab world, which brought people to the streets demonstrating against the West. Not only the majority of Arab people perceived it as another aggression of the West, but also and especially in the Maghreb it was perceived as a betrayal BY Europe and France more specifically (Zghal 1991). Islamists were among the strongest voices against the West, although condemnation came also from the ‘Westernised’ French-speaking democrats, in countries such as Algeria (Lacoste 1995, 13). However, the Europeans did not grasp the full meaning of the protests. Instead, they focused on the anti-Western attitude of street demonstrations and on the reluctance of some governments to overtly support the intervention. The refusal of Algeria and Tunisia to join the coalition, for instance, was interpreted by many as “another sign that Islamic fundamentalism was gaining ground in North Africa” (Pierros, Meunier, Abrams 1999, 150). By many in Europe, as well as in the Arab world, the conflict was unfortunately perceived as a ‘struggle over values.’ In Western Europe, the Gulf War entrenched anti-Arab and anti-Islamic attitudes (Collinson 1996, 42) which contributed in Europe to establish a false equation ‘Arab = Islam = Islamic fundamentalism.’

The perspective of a confrontation between Islamic fundamentalists and Western Europe seemed to turn into a concrete possibility when the FIS (Front islamique du salut) won the first round of elections in Algeria, in December 1991. Having overwhelmingly won the municipal elections in June 1990, the FIS appeared close to achieve the majority of seats in Parliament, which would have opened the way to a government formed by the FIS. Algeria seemed on the verge of becoming an Islamic state, a possibility that shocked European public opinion. The military coup, which intervened shortly afterwards to put an end to the democratic experience, was in fact greeted in most of Western Europe as the ultimate way to stop the fundamentalists. But the possibility remained there. The massacres which have occurred in Algeria since have horrified Western public opinion. Attacks against civil people accompanied a campaign by Islamic fundamentalists against the West and eventually against Western citizens supporting the regime, a justification often used to contribute to the demonisation of all Islamists [25]. At the same time, governments in Western Europe strove to counter the dangers on multiple fronts. France, the most involved country, declared fundamentalism a domestic threat and arrested Islamic militants suspected of supplying arms to Algerian Islamists (Esposito 1999, 98). As a result of a fear of a radicalisation of the Muslim communities, the French government fought any open expression in favour of the FIS, while opening a quarrel with countries such as Germany and the USA, which hosted FIS representatives. As a pre-emptive measure, French government also drastically reduced the number of visas granted to Algerians of all political inclination. Moreover, French officials entered into discussions with their counterparts in Italy and Spain to draft emergency plans in case of a sudden exodus of refugees (Collinson 1996, 46). At the same time, the French support to the Algerian government continued to increase, regardless of doubts spreading in Europe about the efficacy and methods of the regime’s fight against the Islamist guerrillas. In spite of the difficulties of the relations between the two countries, it could be maintained that it was a war by proxy, in which all Western European countries had a stake. It was in Europe’s interest to avoid a victory of the Islamic fundamentalists, in Algeria and elsewhere [26].

The Algerian crisis, the fatwa promulgated against Salman Rushdie in 1988, the case of the hijab in France, all contributed to raise several questions about relations between the West and Islam. Why was this apparent rift opening between the two? What did it entail for Western countries and societies? How should the West react? Among all the explanations advanced, one approach managed to semi-monopolise the debate among opinion- and policy-makers until nowadays. Based on a cultural perspective, it pointed to a ‘clash of civilisations’ between the West and Islam. According to this approach (Huntington 1993, 1996), civilisation and cultural identities were shaping the patterns of cohesion and conflict in the post-Cold war era. However, the balance of power among civilisations was shifting, as ‘the West’ was declining in relative terms, vis à vis the rising power of Islam and the Asian civilisation. Therefore, ‘the survival of the West’ depended on Westerners uniting to preserve their civilisation against the challenges from other civilisations, mainly Islam (Huntington 1996, 20-21). The enmity between the West (or Christianity) and Islam was seen as a constant element of international politics. “Each has been the other’s Other” (idem, 209) and the same continued to be valid. The clash, therefore, was not between the West and Islamic fundamentalists, but with Islam altogether, “a different civilisation whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power.” (idem, 217). ‘Fault line wars’ were to constitute most of the new ‘arc of crisis’ through the Mediterranean, the Balkans and the Southern periphery of Russia (e.g. Lesser 1995, 22-24). ‘Islam has bloody borders,’ according to this perspective.

Although Huntington is the most renowned supporter of this approach, others have relied on a similar argument to explain the rift between Islam and the West, while countless critics have opposed this view. Buzan (1991) offered a similar view about ‘clashes of rival civilisational identities,’ which focussed mainly on the West and Islam. Others, like Bassam Tibi and Akbar Ahmed, though restricting analysis mainly to Islamic fundamentalisms, emphasised the existent clash of ‘two universalisms,’ and the ‘war of civilisations,’ competing on two different vision of world order: pax americana versus pax islamica (Tibi 1998, 43; Ahmed 1992, 264). The main characteristic of these analyses has been their determinism, which often resembled post hoc justifications of existent trends and perceptions, rather than a deconstruction of power games and of the political interests involved. Rather than clash of civilisations, the divergences analysed would have been better systematised as clashes of interests, hinging mainly on politics (Abed al-Jabri 1999, 73) [27].

In spite of the debate it stirred among academics, this argument has found an impressive echo not only in public opinion, but also among public officials and practitioners. Most prominently, a substantial part of NATO officials, among whom NATO Secretary General, supported the argument in the early 1990s, thus potentially turning it into a self-fulfilling prophecy. The new Alliance’s Strategic Concept in November 1991 emphasised a ‘broad concept of security,’ which included ethnic and religious factors. In the case of the Mediterranean, Secretary General Manfred Wörner specified that threats were given by overpopulation, religious extremism, migration, terrorism and proliferation of arms of mass destruction [28]. Experts begun to talk about NATO’s Southern ‘front,’ instead of the Southern ‘flank,’ thus taking up the tenet of ‘fault line conflicts’ of Huntington. To tackle this perceived risk, a complex arrangement was put into place, mixing a reorientation of NATO and NATO members security structures (Gama 1995, 192) and the creation of confidence-building measures such as the Mediterranean Dialogue, launched in February 1995. But the attempt at confidence-building sprung from the desire to buy off the enemy rather than from the desire of mutual understanding, as revealed by the interpretation of the Dialogue given by Willy Claes, the new NATO Secretary General. At the press conference launching the Dialogue, he openly indicated that following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Islamic fundamentalism now posed the major threat to the Alliance (Europe, 9.II.95). In his view, that was the main rationale behind the launching of the Mediterranean Dialogue, a concern which both Allies and partners were expected to share (Aliboni 1998, 118) [29]. In spite of the negative reactions that that statement attracted from inside and outside NATO, it does indicate the extent to which Western policy-makers were toying with the idea of NATO adopting as its main mission the countering of Islamic fundamentalism.

Therefore, in the early 1990s Islamic fundamentalism was perceived as a challenge to political order inside and outside European borders and as such, it represented a new issue in political debates, i.e. it was politicised. For Europeans, Islamic fundamentalism represented a challenge, with no precise form and a dangerous capacity to penetrate borders, to which they could not find an appropriate answer. Increasingly, the challenging aspects of Islamic fundamentalism originated not from a specific centre of political and religious power, but from the ‘bottom’ level of the individuals (Kepel 1991, 56 ff.). Unforeseeable contestation of (part of) Muslim populace erupted in unforeseeable places and times, from Baghdad to Bradford. The difficulties for European states increased, as they struggled to come to terms with an indefinite phenomenon. The problem seemed to challenge the basic fundaments of political order, inside and outside European borders: neither migrants in Europe nor Islamic fundamentalists in the Arab world wanted to be integrated in the new post-Cold War order. The nature of the issue, in spite of the emphasised cultural dimension, focused on the political nature of domestic and international order. Europeans were concerned about the political instability that Islamic fundamentalism threatened to bring both inside and outside European borders. In fact, the relevance of the issue did not go, on average, beyond the politicisation stage: Islamic fundamentalism was politically very salient, but it did not command emergency measures, nor was the challenge supposed to represent a real threat, impinging on European vulnerability. Although high security organisations such as NATO did sometimes treat it as a security threat, in the average European response Islamic fundamentalism rather represented an issue in political debates about security. All in all, the conclusion can be drawn that European perceptions of security at the beginning of the 1990s partly showed the tendency to fill the political vacuum left by the demise of communism with the ‘comfortable’ threat of a much weaker enemy, embodied by Islamic fundamentalists.

Islamic fundamentalism and immigration were linked to a third aspect which, though not new in European security perceptions, acquired a new momentum in the early 1990s: terrorism. The problem came to public attention in the early 1970s, when it brought the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to Europe and triggered a concerted response by the Europeans. By the end of the Cold War, it had almost disappeared in that form. Armed Palestinian resistance and state-sponsored terrorism linked to the Arab-Israeli conflict had more or less collapsed (Joffé 1996, 142). The PLO had in fact renounced terrorism as a weapon, especially outside the Middle East. Iran and Libya were less eager to instigate it. More generally, since the late 1980s, terrorism has declined steadily. However, in the early 1990s, the issue appeared again in European debates, in the form of a possibility of an attack of Islamic fundamentalists on European soil. Their aspiration to spread Islam ‘from below,’ (Kepel 1991, 56 ff.) constituted the perfect seedbed for terrorist attacks, as demonstrated by the cases of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the FIS in Algeria and the Jama’at Islamiyya in Egypt (Joffé 1996, 154). The networks created by migrants, especially if socialised to radical Islam, potentially expanded the scope of the attacks to Europe. Therefore, European government feared terrorist attacks in the occurrence of all events linked with political instability and Islam in the Mediterranean. This fear found a confirmation in August 1995, when Algerian extremists conducted a terroristic campaign in Paris, aimed at sanctioning French support to Algerian regime. 

Though in a new form, the attacks did not lead to the securitisation of terrorism. The issue remained at the political level, while at the same time reinforcing the securitisation of migration. The Europeans had organised a common counter-terrorism strategy since the catastrophe of the Olympic Games in Münich in 1972. Thus, even if the final political aims of terrorists throughout Europe had changed, the strategy to counter them, in practical terms, did not. It only reinforced the determination of governments. Terrorism became one of the forces behind European policing and the institutionalisation of the EU sector of Justice and Home Affairs (Walker 1998, 176). In particular, terrorism evoked issues of migration when Europeans addressed the Mediterranean (King 1998, 120), and that, together with Islamic fundamentalism, constituted a strong lead towards the adoption of a new initiative towards the area.

Few other issues, apart from migration, Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism, deserve a mention in the analysis of European security perceptions. Economic exchanges were steadily falling, with the Europeans maintaining the upper hand in the balance. While in 1994 Europe took slightly more than half of Mediterranean exports, the Mediterranean countries received 7.6% of European exports. Moreover, as European imports from the region were 5.6% of total European imports in the same year, the balance of payments remained in favour of the EU (Bensidoun and Chevalier 1998, 28, 52 fn.3). The negotiating power about trade lied in the Northern shore of the Mediterranean. No risk was perceived - nor any real opportunity for trade and investments, which constituted more of a ‘bet’ than a concrete opportunity. Much the same could be said of oil. Though it remained a key determinant of European economies and therefore a salient political issue, decades of awareness of the potential dangers had trained European countries to treat the issue with a special care. Wide reserves had been created to absorb the possible shocks of the market. The oil market was substantially open, regardless of the ownership of oil fields, oil companies and pipelines (Fuller 1995, 88). All in all, oil was moving towards acquiring the characteristics of ‘normal goods’ [30]  to be traded on the international market without any further regional protectionist arrangement (Adelman 1991). There was no need for ‘special energy relations,’ to be institutionalised in a foreign policy initiative (Chatelus 1997, 25). For a period it seemed as if environmental concerns were to enter the security discourse of the Europeans, afraid of being geographically bound to Southern Mediterraneans’ pollution of the sea (Haas 1990). It would have been a legitimate security concern and certainly a noble goal, to reduce pollution in the Mediterranean. However, the issue never really rooted in the wide public. The problem was not genuinely Euro-Mediterranean in nature and the main causes of concern were to be found rather on the Northern shore, as France, Spain and Italy were the main polluters of the area (New Scientist, 4.II.95).


The map of European security perceptions vis à vis Mediterranean challenges and threats in the late 1980s and early 1990s changed dramatically. The Cold War disappeared and the military challenges lost their importance, while the Sixth Fleet remained in the area. For the first time since before the Second world war, from a military point of view the Mediterranean was a rather secure area, in which the assets of the Europeans largely bypassed their liabilities. In trade too, the trend was towards a continued improvement of terms of trade for the Europeans, while the strategic value of import and export remained very low. Oil was no exception, although it remained a politically salient issue because of the importance it maintained in European economies. The trend was towards oil becoming a ‘normal good’ and at the beginning of the 1990s nothing seemed to counter that, not even the Gulf War. Environmental concerns did not receive any substantial attention. In the typology I drew about security perception, these arguments are translated graphically as follows:

relevance of  an issue

politicisation securitisation

low                high

nature of an issue
weapons of mass destruction      
trade oil    
sea pollution      


The three key issues which came to the forefront in the new configuration of security perceptions, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, were, in order of increasing importance, terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism and migration. Terrorism was not new for Europeans, but it acquired a new momentum in connection with Islamic fundamentalism. Therefore, a phenomenon which seemed largely under control and steadily declining in the later 1980s, rose again to the top of governments’ agenda as an expected logical outcome of Islamists’ challenges against Europeans. Apart from the attacks in France in August 1995, however, the issue remained more at the level of a possibility rather than actual conflict between terrorists and European states. Islamic fundamentalism represented a new and broader challenge than terrorist attacks. While perceived only by a few in the early 1980s, the following decade saw Islamic fundamentalism identified by many as a substantial challenge to European preferred political order inside and outside European borders. Islamic fundamentalism, and more broadly Islam, were indicated by many Europeans as the embodiment of ‘the Other,’ due to the perceived rejection of Western values that Islamists proclaimed. The challenge, however, remained at the political level because, amid security talks by a few, no emergency measures were taken to counter it. 

The biggest change in the time span under examination came from the securitisation of migration, which at the end of the 1980s was addressed not only through political means, but also through emergency measures including the use of force. The challenge and the threats it represented were differently perceived throughout Europe, although largely in alarmist and securitarian tones. Traditional countries of immigration faced the increasing visibility of migrants who had become permanent residents. Southern European countries had to come to terms with the new situation of immigration instead of emigration. The response was with increased border control, more use of police forces and sometimes the Army, and the creation of new security agencies, at the national as well as at the European level. The vulnerabilities that were resented centred on society, as migrants were perceived as attacking the social security of European citizens, by ‘stealing’ jobs and questioning cultural traditions. Migration thus was the core problem which European countries faced vis à vis the Mediterranean. This was the more so because migration dovetailed with Islamic fundamentalism and with terrorism, thus building a gateway in European security borders. Fluxes of individuals were dressed with all the possible negative clothes: terrorists, fanatics, illegal workers, etc. There was the widespread feeling that the threat could easily disregard the frontiers and attack European security from the inside. The end of the Cold War triggered an increased vulnerability of borders, as well as the need to invent new ways to defend established and preferred political orders. Could it have been any different? Was the salience in security terms of migration, Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism a necessity? No predetermination was at stake, as other equally important issues did not become top priorities, such as the exclusion of Libya from the international community or the difficulties of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process [31]. But that was not the case. The front stage was taken by migration, with fundamentalist and terrorist nuances.

These statements express a clear profile of European security perceptions towards challenges originating from the Southern Mediterranean countries. This can be measured and represented by the bi-dimensional table which I have constructed by drawing on the recent contributions in the field of security studies. I have presented an analytical device to define security applied to the Euro-Mediterranean relations that focuses on European security perceptions. The outcome does not support claims about the reality of perceived threats, but it points to a conclusion about the kinds of perceived perils that drove European considerations about their Southern neighbours in the aftermath of the Cold War.

Such a conclusion can be useful not only in clarifying the debate about security in the Mediterranean, but also to analyse the changes brought about by the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. It is evident that security perceptions and the definition of security per se have been deeply affected by the attacks. Terrorism is most likely to have entered the sphere of high security, given the extent of the forces that Western countries are mobilising to counter it. Wide-spread discourses by governments about the emergency created by the attacks have filled newspapers and fed into public opinion. The framework introduced in this paper, and the description of European perceptions before the attack was perpetrated, constitute a sound basis for analysing the ongoing changes.

The framework is also useful in the analysis of the foreign policies of member states and of European foreign policy. Apart from emergency measures, it is most likely that governments will react to perceived threats by rethinking long term foreign policies to meet the conditions of the new environment. In particular, a change in the nature of the challenges could trigger a re-evaluation of the type of foreign policy to enact, as traditional foreign policy may well have been tailored to different security issues.

Moreover, the table that I used to analyse European security perceptions has the advantage of facilitating comparison. It can be used both across time and space. Comparison across time would, for instance, reveal that changes in security perceptions always precede changes in foreign policy, thus offering a robust explanation for foreign policy changes. Furthermore, the comparison of security perceptions within a single geographical region can reveal differences in perceptions by actors participating in the same security system. In the case of the Mediterranean, it would be particularly interesting to compare European security perceptions with Southern Mediterranean security perceptions of challenges originating from Europe. The outcome would probably point to a completely different picture than the one analysed in this paper, with economic development and cultural penetration coming on first. Finally, this simple table can travel further than Euro-Mediterranean relations and be used to analyse security perceptions of public actors across the world. In my view, it is more suited to analyse perceptions of governments than of non-governmental entities, as both dimensions are strictly related to the role of governments as providers of security and public policies. However, it is a first step in the direction of empirical operationalisation of security perceptions on a multidimensional scale.


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[1] The Independent, 8.II.95.

[2]See Baldwin (1997, 5n.1) for a substantial sample of this literature.

[3]In insisting on practices, I depart from the Buzan et al. (1998) model, which is less demanding on this issue. For an interpretation of their model purely in terms of language, see Huysmans (1998). For an overall critique of the model, see McSweeney (1996) and the debate which followed.

[4] For an exaustive analysis of the various possible definitions of economic security, see Cable (1995). Cable’s approach has the merit of specifying four different approaches to the issue and the nuances within the same approach. I will draw here on what he labels as the ‘more conventional treatment’ of economic security.

[5]As such, collective identity is an issue which can be seen as embodying the other four dimensions of security. I will consider it independently, however, by taking into account only the aspects which directly relate to the construction and reproduction of the collective identity, and not to the means through which this is done.

[6] By ‘Southern Mediterranean countries’ I mean all the countries of the Southern shore of the Mediterranean: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Israel, Palestinian Authority, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey. Jordan is generally included in this group as well, because of its historical connections with the Palestinians.

[7]The European Rapid Operational Force (EUROFOR) and the European Maritime Force (EUROMARFOR) were established by France, Spain, Italy and Portugal in May 1995. See Whitman (1999, 20ff.).

[8]See for instance the round table in Limes (1994, n.2) among people who have been very close to the Italian Army or part of it.

[9] The agreement with Italy was superseded by the Rome Treaty

[10] This does not entail that family reunification took the place in the same numbers as labour migration. In France, the number of family migrants fell during the 1970s. See Weil (1995, passim). The key point is that the issue became more salient because the ‘end’ of immigration was no such thing.

[11] Both the volume of the movement and the balance of destinations fluctuated, though (Salt and Clout 1976, 140).

[12]For references of specific cases, see fn. 22.

[13]While in 1990 the stock of foreign population in Italy was 1.37% in proportion to total population and in Spain 1.06%, in Germany it was 8.2% and in Belgium 9.1% (Venturini 1994, 28).

[14] Population was 70.706.217 in 1950, 97.173.543 in 1970 and 191.656.167 in 1990, according to UN Demographic Yearbook Historical Supplement. These figures include Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Cyprus and Malta. Data in this series is not available for Libya and Palestine.

[15] As early as the 1960s, Tunisia and Lebanon displayed a downwards trend. They were soon joined by the other Arab countries. In some cases, like in Algeria, the transition seemed to be as dramatic as the growth rates had appeared (Courbage 1998).

[16] United Nations (1995) World Population Prospects - The 1994 Revision. New York.

[17]The precise figure according to this source was 353.719.000. It does not include Cyprus and Malta.

[18] For a critique of the UN methods, see Courbage 1998.

[19]This discourse run parallel to the continued demand for migrant workers in sectors such as tourism, agriculture, construction, ecc., thus creating a gap between the rethoric of control and the reality of continued immigration.

[20] On the topic of European frontiers and migrations, in its symbolic and practical aspects, see Anderson and Bort (1998).

[21] For France, Germany and the Netherlands, see Giraudon (2000). For Germany, see Thränhardt (1999); Martin (1994). For France, see Hollifield (1994); Hargreaves (1995); Horton (1995) Lacoste-Dujardin (1995). The case of Italy is described by Bonifazi (2000); Sciortino (1999); Barravecchia (1996); Rampini (1994). For the other Southern European countries, see, among others, Cornelius et al. (1994), Arango (2000) and Eurobarometer n.35 (June 1991) and n.37 (June 1993). See also Papademetriou and Hamilton (1996).

[22] In the Report (Doc.1543) to the Assembly of WEU, presented on November 4, 1996, the issue was framed in clearly security terms: “It is no secret that many Europeans regard the problem of migration from the south not only as a social and economic challenge and a problem of organisation but also as a threat to the cultural identity of the northern countries, and the unease felt in those countries has reached such a point as to precipitate protests that migration is a danger to the internal security and stability of some European countries.” (p.16). 

[23] In OJEC, C158, 17.VI.91.

[24] Commission of the European Communities, Immigration. Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament. SEC(91) 915final. Brussels, 11.X.91.

[25] But, as Halliday underlines, “if there are myths about ‘Islam’, they are ones invented and propagated not just in the supposed hegemonic world of Europe and the USA, but also within the supposedly dominated and oppressed arena of ‘Islam’ itself.” (1996, 111).

[26]For a comparison of Algeria and Egypt, see Martín Muñoz (1995).

[27] For a broad and passionate discussion about perceptions, misperceptions and intentional misperceptions between Islam and ‘the West,’ see the contributions in Martín Muñoz (1999).

[28] As quoted in Belguendouz (1992).

[29] See also NATO Review December 1994-January 1995; The Independent (8.II.95); International Herald Tribune (9.II.95).

[30] Interview with ENI official, November 1995.

[31] Interview with Menouar Alem (at the time, member of the King’s cabinet), Rabat, 30.X.97.

ã Copyright 2001. Jean Monnet Chair of European Comparative Politics 


Federica Bicchi, European University Institute - San Domenico di Fiesole (FI)