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Emmanuel Brunet-Jailly

Chapter 3. Border Acrobatics between the European Union and Africa: The Management of Sealed-off Permeability on the Borders of Ceuta and Melilla

Xavier Ferrer Gallardo

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1Ceuta and Melilla, two North African territories under Spanish sovereignty, automatically became parts of the European Union (EU, then known as the European Communities, or EC) in 1986, when Spain joined it. Ceuta has a surface area of 19.48 square kilometres and a total perimeter 28 kilometres long, of which 8 kilometres constitute its land border with Morocco; Melilla comprises an area of 13.41 square kilometres and has a total perimeter of 20 kilometres, of which 11 kilometres constitute its land border with Morocco. As of January 2005 Ceuta was inhabited by 75,276 people and Melilla by 65,488 people. These two geopolitically contested territories of the Maghreb were turned into unique fragments of the EU on the African continent and, as a consequence, the nature of their borders with Morocco was transformed.

2This chapter discusses the peculiar border regime that has governed people and commodity flows across the borders of Ceuta and Melilla since 1986. It highlights the progressively acrobatic mode in which the EU’s borders with Morocco have been managed, and it argues that the administration of the border between these two cities and Morocco has dramatically accentuated the conflicting logic of softening and fortification in which the EU’s external borders are entrenched. The causes and consequences of this accentuation are examined by taking into account both structural and agency levels of analysis. This research is informed by the scanning of the relevant literature on Spanish-Moroccan border dynamics, a selective scrutiny of Spanish and Moroccan newspapers, both local and national, and two research field trips to the frontier area in January 2003 and February 2006.

3The range of issues investigated here is related to the four analytical dimensions suggested by Emmanuel Brunet-Jailly’s border model: market forces in the borderlands; the policy activity of multiple levels of government; local cross-border political clout; and local cross-border culture (Brunet-Jailly 2005). Thus the aim is to show how EU structure has impinged on the daily border practice of Ceuta and Melilla, and how, in turn, this interaction between structural and agency factors has engendered an acrobatic border model.

4The first section of this chapter contextualizes the frontier by outlining the historical evolution of Ceuta’s and Melilla’s borders with Morocco, from the Reconquista of the Iberian peninsula up to Spain’s accession to the EU in 1986. The second section discusses the border regime deployed in the two cities since 1986, in particular, the exceptional “Schengenization” of Ceuta and Melilla, the increasing but selective impermeability of their perimeters that has resulted, and the anomalous patterns of cross-border mobility. The third section examines the implications of acrobatic border management and the conclusion highlights the capriciousness of the EU’s external border practices.


5Almost 800 years of the Muslim presence in the Iberian Peninsula separated the arrival of Tarik in Gibraltar in the year 711 and the fall of the Kingdom of Granada into Christian hands in 1492. The year 1492 and the tears spilt by Boabdil represent the symbolic end of the Reconquista, as well as the fixing of a relatively stable frontier between Christianity and Islam in the western Mediterranean. The existence of a mobile, permeable and at times non-existent border between Christian and Muslim domains evoked the idea of the Iberian Peninsula as a huge frontier territory of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim interaction. The Christian Reconquista, and its associated symbolic purification of the Iberian space, gradually transported the frontier zone toward the Strait of Gibraltar, where it has remained fixed ever since.

6The Iberian seizure of Maghrebian territories, and thus the preliminary setting of today’s frontier, took place within the logic of the Reconquista. Ceuta fell into Portuguese hands in 1415 and into Spanish hands in 1668, while Melilla was conquered by Castile in 1497. The seizure of Ceuta and Melilla was followed by the construction of a series of mostly Castilian strongholds on the North African coast – Mers el-Kebir, El Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera, Orán, Bougie, and Tripoli – referred to as the Fronteras de África (Driessen 1992, 17). The main difference between the mobile Iberian borders of the Reconquista and those established in the African continent resides in the fact that the former were borders of expansion, while the latter, at least at the beginning, were borders of contraction. The shift from a policy of expansion to a strategy of contraction must be read within the historical context of Columbus’s discovery of the Americas, which also took place in 1492. Spain’s interest shifted toward the Atlantic and hence the seizure of these territories was not followed by a policy of expansion throughout the African continent.

Figure 3.1 Ceuta and Melilla

Figure 3.1 Ceuta and Melilla

Source: Sergi Cuadrado 2006

7As Rézzette (1976, 13) wrote,

The Spanish settlement on the northern coast of Morocco from the beginning had a double offensive-defensive purpose: to observe the Moors in their own territory, in order to ward off their eventual preparations for the reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula; and to furnish Christian ships refuge from pirates and protection from storms.

8Later the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla also served as key outposts for colonial penetration. From the time of the Iberian seizure of Ceuta and Melilla until the colonial penetration into northern Morocco, as Driessen (1992, 34) points out,

both Spanish and Moroccan authorities perceived and represented the Spanish-Moroccan frontier for more than four centuries as a hard and fast line of division between “civilization” and “savagery,” a divide that was mainly defined in terms of religion. In daily life, however, it was a zone of interaction between two different cultures, which, in spite of religious antagonisms, knew very well how to deal with one another in various ways.

9Notions of division and interaction, of permeability and impermeability, have continued to cohabit within the border ever since it emerged.

10These conflicting border dynamics can be closely associated with the ambivalent nature of Spanish-Moroccan relations, which have constantly swung back and forth between traditional friendship and fierce opposition, between peace and war, between loyalty and distrust, and between shared legacy and current discrepancies. Obviously it is in the border region that all these ambivalent swings have been captured, giving rise to the social, economic, political, and cultural hybrid patterns of border societies.

11From the Iberian seizure of the North African territories to their subsequent development, first into dynamic trading posts and later into bases for colonial penetration, Ceuta and Melilla basically functioned as presidios (military garrisons). In the second half of the nineteenth century, Spanish defensive interventions in the areas surrounding Ceuta and Melilla turned into military incursions into Moroccan territory. Gradually these incursions modified the size of the territories that Spain still kept in North Africa. The official delimitation of the borders of these enclaves dates back to conventions signed in 1859 and 1862, in the case of Melilla, and in 1860, in the case of Ceuta (López García 1991). The Spanish-Moroccan agreements that comprised the Treaty of Tétouan (1860) entailed the territorial stabilization of Ceuta and Melilla, enabling their subsequent economic and social development (Cajal 2003, 170). This treaty also established the creation of a neutral zone around the enclaves in order to ensure peace and to protect the frontier territories. This neutral zone, 500 metres wide, still lies between Spain and Morocco, following the land perimeters of Ceuta and Melilla.

12In 1863 Ceuta and Melilla both acquired free-port status, and intense trading activity came to complement their garrison function. By that time the Spanish interest in northern Morocco had increased considerably: the roads of colonial penetration were being paved. The Africanismo movement provided the ideological ground for further Spanish involvement and military intervention in North Africa. In the early twentieth century the Anglo-French geopolitical equilibrium enabled the establishment of the Spanish Protectorate of Northern Morocco. It was to last from 1912 until 1956, and its political, military, commercial, and sociocultural implications clearly had an impact on the enclaves and their borders.

13During the years of colonial intervention (1912-56), despite being fully permeable, the perimeters of Ceuta and Melilla divided the African territories under Spanish sovereignty from the Spanish-protected territory of Northern Morocco. Although the two enclaves were highly interconnected with their hinterlands, their status remained distinct from that of the protectorate. To a certain degree this distinctiveness explains why, after the end of the Spanish-French Protectorate of Morocco in 1956, the enclaves remained in Spanish hands. Ever since Morocco has identified Ceuta and Melilla as integral parts of Moroccan territory, still to be decolonized. Spain, however, considers the enclaves to be as fully Spanish as any Spanish city in the Iberian Peninsula. Spanish and Moroccan perceptions and interpretations regarding the status of the enclaves are obviously contradictory. However, as Cajal (2003, 155) has argued, both the point of view of Rabat and that of Madrid seem to be reasonable within their respective internal logics.

14The end of the colonization of Morocco in 1956 substantially changed the significance of the two Spanish enclaves and, consequently, of their borders with decolonized Morocco. Ceuta and Melilla remained under Spanish sovereignty and followed the successive political guidelines traced by Madrid. Accordingly, until 1975 the enclaves were ruled under the terms established by the fascist dictator Francisco Franco. Especially during the first years of his dictatorship, commercial activity within the enclaves underwent an important development, due partly to tax benefits and partly to the inward orientation of the Spanish economy. After Franco’s death, in 1975, the enclaves were brought into line with the restitution of democracy in Spain. The Spanish Constitution of 1978 introduced the possibility of a certain degree of political autonomy for the enclaves, although it was not put into practice until 1995, when the Statute of Autonomy for Ceuta and Melilla was approved.

15Spain’s accession to the EU in 1986 involved another turn of the screw with respect to the enclaves, introducing a second border reconfiguration in thirty years. Ceuta and Melilla were still under Spanish sovereignty, and thus they automatically became parts of the EU, but their traditionally anomalous status remained and, to some extent, was even emphasized. Among their peculiarities, it is important to note that they did not become parts of the EU’s customs territory. As Gold (1999, 23) has noted, the two cities “ha[d] certain preferential arrangements with the EU as a whole, and additional preference arrangements with peninsular Spain, whereby goods of Ceuta or Melilla origin qualif[ied] for exemption from duty.” Agricultural exports from the EU to Ceuta and Melilla were financially assisted because the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) was not implemented in the two enclaves (Planet 1998a, 47).


16The year 1986, when Spain joined the EU, was unquestionably a major point of inflection within the history of the Spanish-Moroccan border: it is when the contemporary rethinking of the border started. Next came its “Schengenization,” in 1991, and then, in 1995, the beginning of two simultaneous processes: the militarization of the enclaves’ perimeters and the liberalization of trade in the area, the latter being due to culminate in the establishment of the Euro-Mediterranean Free Trade Area in 2010. In the course of these historical developments the Spanish-Moroccan border has been and is being reconfigured according to conflicting logics of softening and fortification. Moreover, these contrasting trends have been accentuated in the particular cases of Ceuta and Melilla. In order to see why this has occurred, we must delineate the main aspects of the readjustment of the borders between the EU and North Africa.

17Even after Spain joined the EU the traditional geopolitical controversy regarding the status of Ceuta and Melilla persisted. Despite the new EU dimension acquired by the enclaves, the discrepancies kept on being discussed (or not) at a bilateral level. In contrast, the borders between the enclaves and Morocco clearly became of concern to the EU and therefore their management acquired an EU dimension. While the arguments, discourses, and political statements regarding the status of Ceuta and Melilla remained practically invariable, the meaning and significance of the enclaves, to the extent that they became EU territories, changed dramatically. Their borders were to be readjusted to the new situation, a readjustment that was translated into geopolitical, functional, and symbolic transformations. Spain’s accession to the EU carried with it the implementation of a rethought border regime, which entailed the redefinition of the terms on which cross-border interaction between the enclaves and their Moroccan hinterland was to develop.

18Prior to 1986, Spain needed to undertake a range of legal modifications in order to fulfill the requirements of EU accession. The incorporation of the Schengen Agreement was among these. In October 1985 a new Ley de Extranjería (immigration law) came into effect. As Gold (2000, 93) explains, “The main focus of the new law was to increase government powers to deal with non-EU foreign nationals already in Spain, rather than to improve border controls.” The law impinged considerably on the Muslim population of Ceuta and Melilla, since, under its terms, an important section of the Muslim community in the enclaves was not given the right to Spanish nationality. Consequently the majority of the Muslim population reacted against the new immigration law, and important protests took place in both Ceuta and Melilla. The law enabled much easier acquisition of Spanish nationality by non-EU immigrants of Latin American, Filipino, Andorran, Sephardi, or Gibraltarian origin than by those of Moroccan origin. As Soddu (2002, 26) argues, the law condemned to illegality the Muslim populations whose forebears had settled in the enclaves more than one hundred years before. As a reaction to the protests and claims of the Muslim community, an extraordinary process of regularization was undertaken in 1987. This process shed light on the increasing demographic and political weight of the Muslim populations of Ceuta and Melilla. Their new status as EU citizens blurred some boundaries between the Muslim and Christian inhabitants of Ceuta and Melilla, whereas new boundaries emerged between these EU Muslims, on the one hand, and the Moroccans who inhabited the borderlands on the other side of the fence.

19After the regularization processes concluded in 1991, Spain’s compliance with the Schengen Agreement required the implementation of tight border controls. The borders became Schengen land borders and therefore their management needed to be adjusted to Schengen control standards. The adoption of visa requirements for Moroccan citizens in 1991 had a remarkable impact on Spanish-Moroccan border dynamics. The control mechanisms were reinforced and the patterns of cross-border mobility were significantly altered. From that moment onward Moroccan citizens were not allowed to cross the new Spanish/Schengen-Moroccan border without a visa, with an exception introduced later regarding “desirable” inhabitants of the Moroccan borderlands. Significantly, May 19, 1991, was the day when the first clandestine migrants died while trying to cross the Straits of Gibraltar. Ever since then the number of would-be immigrants who have died between the Pillars of Hercules has grown dramatically.

20The particular characteristics of the enclaves, which are absolutely dependent on the cross-border interaction with their hinterlands, implied that the Schengen regime was put into practice in a selective mode. The border was rendered more or less impermeable, but with an eye to the future sustainability of the enclaves. Thus an exception to the Schengen regime was made to enable the daily cross-border flow of “desirable” migrants – workers, consumers, smugglers – against the general pattern of denial of access to non-EU citizens. Under the terms of this discerning regulation, the Schengen borders in North Africa are currently closed to the vast majority of Moroccan citizens yet open to some under certain conditions. In the case of Ceuta, Moroccan citizens from the neighbouring region of Tétouan are allowed to enter the enclave without a visa for a period of up to twenty-four hours. The same border regime is deployed 300 kilometres eastward, in Melilla, where, like the citizens from the region of Tétouan, those who inhabit the region of Nador are allowed to move back and forth across the border. This atypical deployment of the Schengen border regulations in Ceuta and Melilla seems to have been specifically designed to ensure the economic and, hence, the political sustainability of the enclaves.

21Needless to say, this selective “Schengenization” of the enclaves has not only impinged on the cross-border flow of people but also influenced the cross-border flow of commodities. The daily cross-border flow of people and the illicit flow of commodities are intensively interconnected and, to a certain extent, function as two sides of the same coin.

22The economic gap between Spain and Morocco increased extraordinarily after Spain joined the EU. The resulting structural asymmetries stimulated illegal flows of goods and people across their borders. In the case of Ceuta and Melilla, cross-border commercial interaction with Morocco was notably characterized by its smuggling dimension and now constitutes a sustaining pillar of the enclaves’ economy. The dynamism of the irregular flow of goods across the borders is mainly motivated by three factors: the special tax regime of the enclaves, the economic differential between the two sides of the border, and the exception to the Schengen Agreement that allows the daily cross-border flow of Moroccan citizens under certain conditions. The fact that Morocco does not recognize the borders as legitimate implies the non-existence of official customs controls, so the flow of commodities across the borders takes place under a forced veil of legal obscurity.

23On several occasions Morocco has officially complained about the negative consequences of these illicit cross-border flows, but in practice smuggling seems to be tolerated. Officially, commercial interaction between the enclaves and their hinterland is almost non-existent, yet, as Soddu (2002, 38) has pointed out, the volume of commercial interaction across the borders of the enclaves is estimated to be notably higher than the total volume of legal exports from Spain to Morocco. In northern Morocco, as Planet (2002, 275) has noted, the illicit cross-border flows entail “unfair competition for national production, obstruction of the creation of industrial units, discouragement of foreign investment and loss of jobs.” This by no means contributes to overcoming the economic underdevelopment of northern Morocco, which, in turn, stimulates Moroccan emigration toward the EU, both motivating and somehow curiously justifying the EU’s current model for its external borders.

24The free-port status acquired by Ceuta and Melilla in 1863, their beneficial tax status, and the strategic location of their harbours have given rise to what Planet (2002, 268) has called a hypertrophy of the commercial sector. A very small part of what Ceuta and Melilla import is consumed in the enclaves, while 80 percent of it flows across the borders (El País, 2005) and the territories function as the main (atypical) bazaars of the Maghreb. Planet (2002, 269) has explained how the enclaves’ extraordinary commercial activity is organized through a binary scheme (legal and illegal) that benefits from their tax structures: on the one hand, legal economic activity related to the redistribution of goods to locals and tourists; and, on the other, illegal or informal economic activity through which goods are redistributed outside the enclaves.

25Hajjani (1986, as cited in Planet 2002, 275) identified three different types of smuggling to Morocco via the enclaves: (1) occasional smuggling of tobacco, alcoholic beverages, or electrical household appliances, performed sporadically by foreign workers, students, and civil servants, and generally by those, whether Spanish or Moroccan, who can easily enter and leave the enclaves; (2) subsistence smuggling, consisting of the illicit cross-border flow of consumption goods such as batteries, chocolate, canned milk, and perfumes, carried on by inhabitants of the surrounding Moroccan cities, who go back and forth across the border several times a day (called matuteros in Spanish); and (3) large-scale smuggling of electronic equipment, such as satellite dishes and of other expensive goods, carried on by organized networks of professionals. This typology coincides roughly with the three varieties of smugglers described by McMurray (2001, 116-17) as being involved in smuggling between Melilla and Nador, and can be extrapolated to the case of Ceuta and Finideq. McMurray (2001, 123) differentiated between weekend smugglers (or amateurs), everyday smugglers, and the “big boys,” and he pointed out that “it is difficult to name an item that is not smuggled across that border into Morocco.” In Ceuta and Melilla the very existence of the border equates to economic opportunity, and the border functions as a valuable resource for many of those who make a living from it, rather than as an obstacle to be overcome.

26It seems clear that an extensive and vigorous economic network is fully dependent on the selectively sealed-off borders of Ceuta and Melilla. However, the economic model based on the existence of the present border regime might be altered in the near future. The EU’s “Barcelona process,” initiated in 1995, fixed the establishment of a Euro-Mediterranean Free Trade Area as one of its main goals. This raises the question of how the accelerating liberalization of Euro-Mediterranean trade is going to impinge on the network of interests that is currently based on the very existence of the border.


27In sharp contrast to the trend toward liberalization of Euro-Mediterranean trade stands the fact that the borders of Ceuta and Melilla continue to be physically reinforced. Thus, in the near future, the free flow of commodities across their borders will coexist with the militarized fencing off of the enclaves. From the perspective of free trade, the fortification of the borders seems to be clearly focused on filtering people’s mobility.

28Although the project of rendering the borders impermeable dates from 1992, the sealing off of the enclaves’ perimeters was not a tangible reality until 1995. The palpable fortification of the enclaves coincided with their being declared Autonomous Cities within the Spanish constitutional framework. The initiation of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership also took place in 1995. The fencing off of Ceuta’s and Melilla’s borders with Morocco was accelerated in that year, due partly to the increasing social tension that had been generated in the enclaves. By that time the inefficiency of the existing border controls had become apparent. During the early 1990s the continual arrival of sub-Saharan and Algerian migrants, who were neither repatriated nor allowed to cross legally to continental Europe, engendered chaos. An increasing number of migrants were trapped in the two cities, waiting for a legal response to their situation. The enclaves functioned as waiting areas from which, sooner or later, they would be able to cross to the Iberian Peninsula. The authorities in Ceuta were unable to deal with the situation, which culminated in migrant riots and xenophobic protests (Gold 2000; Soddu 2002). Despite the improved controls and the increased militarization of the perimeter, the border remained permeable to the illegal flow of people after 1995 and was not made impermeable until 1999. Notwithstanding that, and even though chaos and incompetence were slowly disappearing, the illegal entry of immigrants through the militarized border fence persisted. By that time, as Gold (1999, 27) observed, there was little evidence that the fences reduced illegal access to the enclaves because, particularly in some specific sections of the perimeter, the terrain made it difficult for the fence to be fully effective. Fortification techniques continued to be developed, but so did ways of subverting them.

29The borders of both Ceuta and Melilla are now intensively militarized. Somehow the enclaves have restored their medieval fortress dimension, combining it with high-tech control mechanisms. The land perimeter of Melilla consists of 10.5 kilometres of double-metal fencing. The outer fence is 3.5 metres high and the inner fence reaches six metres. Both fences are equipped with barbed wire. A road between the two fences allows the circulation of border-patrol vehicles. The surveillance system consists of 106 video cameras, a microphone cable, and infra-red surveillance. The border patrols in Melilla are composed of 331 police officers (273 in 2002) and 676 members of the Guardia Civil (European Commission 2005). In the case of Ceuta, 316 police officers and 626 Guardia Civil officers control its 7.8-kilometre double-metal fence by means of the same technical equipment as that found in Melilla (European Commission 2005).

30The Moroccan side of the border is not as strictly patrolled as the Spanish side. There are several reasons for this asymmetry. The Moroccan perception of the borders as illegitimate is, needless to say, far-reaching. Moreover, the dissimilar economic and technical potential, as well as the different roles regarding migration dynamics played by Spain and Morocco, also entail different border requirements and political responses. However, the improvement in Spanish-Moroccan diplomatic relations after José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero became prime minister in 2004 has given rise to enhanced cross-border cooperation at a variety of levels. This enhancement is occurring after a dark period of diplomatic misunderstandings between the two countries, which reached its zenith during the crisis over the disputed territory of Isla Perejil in July 2002 (Planet and Hernando de Larramendi 2003; Szmolka 2005). As far as border control is concerned, Spanish-Moroccan collaboration in the fight against terrorism, illegal immigration, and human trafficking has notably increased.

31In 2005 the implementation of the Sistema Integrado de Vigilancia Exterior (Integrated System of External Surveillance, or SIVE), together with the expansion of collaboration between the Spanish and Moroccan authorities, resulted in a 37 percent reduction in the number of would-be migrants reaching the Spanish coasts (the Canary Islands and the Iberian Peninsula) compared to 2004 (European Commission 2005). The consequence of this decrease was an extraordinary increase in migratory pressure at the borders of Ceuta and Melilla. The strengthening of controls by the Moroccan police (both Gendarmerie and Mehanis) became apparent during the tragic events that took place at the borders during late August, September, and October 2005. During these months successive attempts were made to break through, as numerous groups of migrants tried to scale the fences using handmade ladders. Hundreds made it across, but many more were repelled. This violent merging of border “subversion” and border “protection” ended with the death of fourteen people, all of them citizens of sub-Saharan countries.

32The medieval-style practices of border subversion have been repeatedly employed by illegal migrants since the borders started to be made impermeable. During this episode, however, the number of attempts, as well as their proportions, grew considerably. These practices were described in Spanish and Moroccan media as “border assaults” (L’Opinion 2005; El Telegrama de Melilla 2005; Aujourd’hui Le Maroc 2005) and as “organized massive attacks” (El País 2005), and the Spanish Delegado del Gobierno in Melilla announced that the border of that enclave was being assaulted by means of an organized military strategy (El País 2005). In both Ceuta and Melilla the militarization of border controls seemed to go hand in hand with the militarization of border discourses. These events were followed by the reinforcement of the border fences (El Faro de Ceuta 2005; El País 2005) and of the patrols by both Spanish and Moroccan police and army units (El Mundo 2005; Le Matin 2005). As a consequence the episodes of “massive” border subversion stopped. Nevertheless, clandestine migrants continued to enter the enclaves, following a more complex pattern of entry and using more subtle crossing techniques, such as swimming.

33The functional reconfiguration of the Spanish-Moroccan border and its new role as a regulator of flows is characterized by what Anderson (2001, 3-4) has described as the “selective permeability” of borders and their “differential filtering effects.” On the one hand, the border became more permeable to the flow of goods and capital, due to the logics of globalization and the preparations for the Euro-Mediterranean Free Trade Area. On the other hand, the border became less permeable to the flow of some types of labour migration, in harmony with the idiosyncrasy of a selectively fortified EU (or “Fortress Europe”). This new border role entailed, as Nevins (2002, 7) has pointed out, “maximizing the perceived benefits of globalization while protecting against the perceived detriments of increasing transnational flows.” Anderson (2001, 30) has further observed that “this seriously impedes the free movement and exchange of labour, and is generally accepted by neoliberals despite the fact that it contradicts their free-trade, antistate ideology.”

34The peculiar border regimes of Ceuta and Melilla appear to be designed in accordance with their anomalous status. The atypical and paradoxical management of their borders with Morocco seems not only to embrace EU guidelines regarding external borders but also to take into account the special regulatory system required to sustain them. For this reason the “selective permeability” of the borders of Ceuta and Melilla and their “differential filtering effects” (Anderson, 2001, 3-4) are exceptionally amplified. Their border regimes are rooted in a precise acrobatic equilibrium between the bridging and barrier functions of borders. To the extent that the enclaves are “total” frontier territories, the border functions as their main resource, the preservation of which requires the deployment of acute contradictory policies of softening and fortification. At the present moment a contradictory situation is apparent. Strict control on illegal migration contrasts sharply with “tolerance” for the illicit flow of commodities. At the same time some kinds of cross-border mobility are allowed, and even encouraged, because they seem to be indispensable to the enclaves’ economies.

35The EU’s external border regime seems to be entrenched in the same contradictory logic. The trend toward the free flow of goods across the external border is increasing, the control of cross-border flows of some people across the external perimeter has been notably tightened, and yet at the same time the free flow of certain types of migrants is allowed, even encouraged.

36Van Houtum and Pijpers (2005, 1) have suggested an alternative metaphor for the EU’s model of its external borders. In their view the “European Union follows a geostrategic logic which, much more than a Fortress, resembles the management of a Gated Community.” In other words, the EU external border model resembles “a form of housing found mainly in developing countries with large internal income differences, such as Mexico, Brazil and Venezuela” where “the affluent gate themselves off from the rest of society in an enclave, primarily driven by fear (of crime) and the need for welfare protection and security” (Van Houtum and Pijpers 2005, 6). The simultaneous desirability and undesirability of immigration aimed at protecting the internal comfort zone (Van Houtum 2003) has engendered a contradictory regime of external border controls. The peculiar border management of Ceuta and Melilla may well coincide with the “Gated Community” model suggested by Van Houtum and Pijpers, although it is deployed in a very intense manner. The selectively permeable militarized border regime of these two territories seems to be a small-scale representation of the EU’s model of sociospatial bordering.


37As mentioned, the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership process, also known as the “Barcelona process,” was initiated in 1995. From that moment onward the border between Spain and Morocco has been in the middle of a slowly integrating Euro-Mediterranean diagram of cooperation. Each of the three themes of the Declaration of Barcelona – political and security partnership, economic and financial partnership, and partnership in social, cultural, and human affairs – has impinged decisively on the current nature and significance of the Spanish land borders with Morocco. The establishment of a Euro-Mediterranean Free Trade Area by the target year of 2010, one of the major goals of the declaration, will particularly modify the patterns of commercial mobility across the Spanish-Moroccan border. The borders of Ceuta and Melilla will lose some of their barrier components, although others will remain. At the moment, however, the selectively permeable militarization of Ceuta’s and Melilla’s borders appears to be a symbolic performance, with clearly exclusive sociospatial implications that are aimed at marking the limits of the emerging identity of the EU, rather than a product of rational border regulation.

38This chapter has attempted to provide grounds for questioning whether the EU is being built on foundations that are capricious and, in the long term, unsustainable. It is often said that much can be learned about the cores of territories by scrutinizing their peripheries. With this in mind, this chapter has attempted to shed light on the rapidly evolving borderland that lies between Morocco and the two Spanish enclaves in North Africa. In this regard, the core of the border model suggested by Emmanuel Brunet-Jailly (2005, 11)-that is, “the implicit recognition that agency and structure are mutually influential and interrelated in the shaping of emerging and integrated borderlands” – has provided a constructive and articulating analytical instrument for illustrating how the border changes derived from the EU’s top-down model for the structure of its external borders has merged with the role played by border agents in the field.

39In the end this chapter reveals that the relative structuring effect of EU border-security policy is key to understanding the negotiated fortification of border towns. The case is made that, in the cities of Ceuta and Melilla, the mutual influence between top-down structural border readjustments and the response to them by the border agency have engendered a situation within which the four analytical dimensions proposed by Brunet-Jailly (2005) – market forces, multiple levels of governments, local political clout, and local culture – interact according to an acrobatic pattern. In turn, this pattern is rooted, geopolitically, functionally, and symbolically, in the anomalous attributes of the territories of Ceuta and Melilla. The resulting acrobatic pattern is characterized by the asymmetric and at times highly contradictory sociospatial bordering practices of softening and fortification, which are marked by remarkable instances of selectivity. This phenomenon, observed at the periphery of the EU, surely tells us much about its core.



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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 3.1 Ceuta and Melilla
Légende Source: Sergi Cuadrado 2006
Fichier image/jpeg, 165k


PhD candidate, Human Geography, Autonomous University of Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain

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