Guest post by Rutger Birnie, doctoral student at the European University Institute, Italy. In this post Rutger details the aim of his doctoral research and reflects on why it is important to examine deportation, belonging and citizenship in a way that transcends the sovereign nation-state framework. You can follow Rutger on Twitter at @rutgerbirnie.

Credit: Elena Duvernay | Source:
Over the last six years, the member states of the European Union forcibly removed 1.3 million non-citizen residents from their territory. In this same period, well over 3 million residents were made ‘deportable’ by being served an official deportation order.

This sizeable expulsion effort is generally seen as a component of immigration policy, one necessitated by the persistent phenomenon of illegal border crossings. Yet, while the ‘illegal’ immigrant serves as a useful stereotype in the legitimation of deportation policies, it is easy to forget that deportation is also routinely used on legal residents who are convicted of a crime, suspected of terrorism, do not abide by the conditions of their residence permit, or whose continued presence is simply deemed ‘not conducive to the public good.’ At the most extreme end, certain European countries are stripping some of their nationals of the citizenship status that protects them against deportation with the explicit aim of removing them from the territory―sometimes even when this leaves the deportee stateless.

The deportation of legally resident non-citizens and ex-citizens raises questions about whether the practice is about more than just migration control. As scholars like William Walters and Matthew Gibney have observed, deportation also plays a fundamental role in determining the shape of the political community, by defining and reinforcing the boundaries of membership. By being applicable only to (and, at least in principle, to all) non-citizens, it marks perhaps the most fundamental privilege of citizens in liberal democracies. By being applied to specific categories of non-citizens in different ways, it also establishes a normative conception of the citizenry by distinguishing between different groups of non-citizens on a scale of desirability and desert. Deporting people is a way to designate them as radically unfit for, or undeserving of, being included in the citizenry. Conversely, granting protections against deportation to non-citizens signals that they might be thought of as citizens-in-the-making, as quasi-members whose right to be present stands in need of recognition.

A growing group of scholar are taking note of the fact that deportation is a tool for the state to construct and enforce its notions of membership and belonging, and have started exploring how the practice of deportation is closely intertwined with questions of statehood, territory, and citizenship in the international system of sovereign states. Some are exploring this interplay in specific countries (mostly the US and the UK), others in liberal-democratic nation-states in general. In the European context, however, the ongoing process of European integration has seen exactly these concepts being reshaped and rearticulated on a new, supranational European level. The European Union is increasingly involved in regulating its member states’ practices of deportation, both by restraining them from deporting some categories of persons, and facilitating and actively encouraging the deportation of others. Perceived wisdom in the fields of migration and EU studies explains this meddling from a neo-functionalist perspective: the breaking down of internal borders inherent in the single market project requires ‘flanking measures’ that communitarise control over the external borders of the EU, of which the ‘Europeanisation’ of deportation is simply one of the more recent developments. However, if it is true that deportation is about membership as much as it is about migration control, this is unlikely to be the whole picture.

In my doctoral work, I explore how the development of a European deportation regime is driven by, and contributes to the construction of, a plural conception of membership and belonging on the supranational level. The point is to move beyond the simplistic reading that characterises the European level as one where national executive governments and their supranational representation, concerned with preserving their ability to deport unwanted migrants as they wish, clash with those players (the Court, to some extent the European Parliament and the Commission) who see themselves as guardians of the international human rights obligations of the EU and who restrain the excesses of deportation practices on this basis. Rather, the European level is fast becoming a space in which notions of belonging and membership are developed and contested through the use of deportation power. Europeanised deportation is thus intrinsically connected to the development of a supranational European citizenship, by now considered the ‘fundamental status of the nationals of the member states,’ which is centrally built on the idea of security of residence (or ‘non-deportability’) throughout the Union.

Looking at the Europeanisation of the deportation regime through this citizenship lens, rather than the usual migration control lens, is important for two reasons. First, I believe it might uncover an important dynamic driving the evolution of deportation policies and practices in Europe, giving us a better understanding of why Europe actively engages in the regulation of deportation, and a more informed view of what the future of Europeanised deportation policy might bring. Secondly, it changes the normative debate surrounding the Europeanisation of deportation. A general acceptance of the conception of deportation as a migration control strategy simpliciter has meant that this debate has traditionally focused on the clash between the human rights of those subjected to it and the right of political communities to get rid of unwanted strangers. The shift to a democratic citizenship perspective goes beyond human rights to bring out democratic membership considerations as well. Who should and who should not be deportable, and why? What conceptions of membership and belonging underlie these categorisations? In what way should the legal status of citizenship be connected to protection against deportation power?

It is my contention that these questions need to be tackled in a way that transcends the sovereign nation-state framework: supranational integration in Europe has radically changed the parameters. A deep and critical look at how categories of deportability are constructed on the European level, and the way this interacts with emerging conceptions of supranational belonging and citizenship, as well as deportation practice ‘on the ground,’ is long overdue.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):

Birnie, R. (2014) Deportation, Belonging and Citizenship in the European Union. Available at: (Accessed [date]).