An illiberal power? EU bordering practices and the liberal international order

Enrico Fassi*, Michela Ceccorulli, Sonia Lucarelli

*Corresponding author

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The relevance of bordering practices and dynamics for the European Union has significantly increased in recent years, ranging from Brexit to the open-border policies towards Ukrainians fleeing Russia's military aggression, through the crises in the Schengen area due to migration and COVID–19. In its attempts to respond to these challenges, the EU has been widely criticized in particular for its approach to migration; it has been alluded to as being cynical, negligent and even ‘illiberal’. The aim of this article is to analyse whether and in which sense this allegation is correct, providing clear normative criteria. Drawing from political theory, we identify three different understandings of ‘just’ migration governance, all compatible with a liberal approach, and use them as benchmarks to evaluate the EU's stance. Focusing on selected EU bordering practices—physical, administrative and external bordering—we detect a general trend towards re-bordering, meaning processes through which the control of borders is enhanced and their exclusionary meaning is increased. Most of all, the article shows that EU policies have been leaning towards one specific understanding of liberalism to the detriment of the others, which poses significant challenges to the EU's credentials as a pillar of the liberal international order (LIO).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2261-2279
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Affairs
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • EU
  • Justice
  • Migration


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