Visa liberalization for Moldova after 4 years: between fighting corruption and migration, OP-ED

 

 
The liberalization of visas is among the few instruments generated by the extended dialogue with the EU, which is approved of by most of the political forces, including those with pro-Russian views...


 

Dionis Cenuşa
 

On April 28, 2018, it was four years since the Moldovans started to benefit from a visa-free regime with the EU. Despite the intensification of security risks in different parts of Europe and of the negative image that is daily projected by the Russian media in relation to the European values, the Moldovan citizens continued to travel in the Schengen Area. From about 1 million persons in 2014-2017, the number of Moldovans who travelled in the EU with a biometric passport amounted to 1.5 million persons (April 2014 – April 2018) or practically half of the country’s population. On the one hand, these data show that the benefits of the visa-free regime are felt by a large part of the population that represents different socioeconomic categories. On the other hand, it is confirmed the fact that the Moldovan citizens use the Moldovan biometric passports in the conditions of the opportunity of regaining Romanian nationality.  

The significant multiplication of the crossings of the state border by Moldova citizens reveals the ascension of the political, economic and social interactions between Moldova and the European area. More exactly, during four years of the elimination of visas, the trips made by Moldovans rose over five times in number, from about 300,000 in 2014 to 1.5 million in 2017. The young population aged between 26 and 35 is the most dynamic social group. This is followed by more advanced age brackets. Being a center of attraction for the young generation of Moldovan, Europe can also become a source of inspiration for instituting good governance, the rule of law and other European values in Moldovan society.

The communication with Europe takes place mainly through the territory of Romania. At the start of 2018, Bucharest and Chisinau agreed to set up jointly operated border crossing points on the Moldovan-Romanian border - Costesti-Stanca, Lipcani-Radauti and Cahul-Oancea. This could ease traffic at the border and could additionally facilitate Moldovans’ trips. The second place by the number of crossings to Europe is held by the Chisinau Airport, with over 270,000 crossings in April 2014 – April 2018. This anticipates significant pressure on the capacities of the infrastructure of the only international airport in Moldova, which, even if it is of strategic importance to our country, was conceded for 49 years in dubious conditions by the government of 2013.

Four years after the liberalization of the visa regime, Moldova still faces shortcomings as to the anticorruption policies, eradication of political corruption and operationalization of the instruments for fighting organized crime. The given shortcomings show that after the liberalization of the visa regime, Chisinau significantly reduced its reformist efforts. Since 2017, the EU started to additionally assess the implementation of the commitments undertaken by Moldova and other countries with liberalized regimes (Georgia, Ukraine and Western Balkan countries). Consequently, the non-removal of the major deviations from the visa-free regime rules enables the member states to swifter launch the simplified mechanism for suspending the visa-free regime (IPN, April 18, 2018), including for Moldova.

Liberalization of visas and reasons of Moldovan migrants

According to official reports, about 80% of the Moldovans who visited the Schengen Area returned to the country (Border Police, April 27, 2018). The other over 300,000 persons remained in the EU, violating thus the provisions of the visa-free regime (See Table 1). Such a type of infraction is usually based on an economic motivation. Consequently, this category of citizens opts for illegal labor in Europe or a part of these are waiting for Romanian identification papers with which the employment automatically becomes legal. For now, the supposition concerning the Romanian documents cannot be proven as the Romanian authorities do not publish statistical data about the dynamics of providing Romanian identification papers to Moldovan citizens.

Table 1. Number of Moldovans with biometric passports who travelled to EU and returned home

 

2014-2016

2014-2017

Moldovans who benefitted from visa liberalization (persons)

982.764

1.469.917

Moldovans who returned home

849.591

1.168.079

Source: Border Police

 

The increase in some of the Moldovans’ interest in the illegal stay in the EU can be determined by purely economic reasons, related to the real profile of economic migrants. Subsequently, this category of citizens perceives the positive signals transmitted by the European economy. The latter recovers gradually, with an annual rise that varies between 0.2 and 2.2%, following the drastic 4% decline in the GDP owing to the financial crisis of 2009.

On the other hand, “rejection” factors related to the non-attractiveness of official salaries in the real sector of the Moldovan economy, negative consequences of frauds in the banking system, political crises and reduced efficiency of reforms intervene.

The unpredictability of the Russian currency and economy affected by the dependence on the global prices of hydrocarbons and by the Western sanctions related to the annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbas, interference in Western election campaigns and other factors also influence the behavior of Moldovan migrants. This thing was noticed in 2016, when the number of Moldovan migrants fell by about 150,000 persons, as opposed to the total of 584,000 Moldovans recorded in 2014. Even if the liberalization of visas excludes employment, the partial reorientation of Moldovan workers to the EU is highly probable.

Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia: comparison of deviations

The legal behavior of Moldovans towards the requirements of the visa-free regime with the EU was tested in time owing to the fact that the regime was approved three years before the same was done for Georgia (March 2017) and Ukraine (June 2017). Even if statistical data reveal similar problems for the three states, the deviations witnessed by Moldova are unacceptable given that the country is at the fourth year of implementation of the visa-free regime. During the next few years, it will be clear if the problems signaled by Georgia and Ukraine almost 6-8 months of the elimination of the Schengen visas will worsen or, on the contrary, will be remedied. (See Table 2)

Table 2. Main indicators in assessing implementation of conditions of visa-free regime

 

2014

2015

2016

Refusals of entry to Schengen Area

Moldova

1845

2725

4660

Ukraine

15.585

23.795

22.495

Georgia

3.185

1.330

810

Illegal stays

Moldova

2.245

4.050

7.660

Ukraine

16.520

23.480

29.565

Georgia

6.550

5.405

5.240

Readmission/return (% per cases)

Moldova

62.3 % din 1.700

67.3 % din 1.810

48.1 % din 5.035

Ukraine

74.7% din 12.220

76.4% din 19.200

82.5% din 26.865

Georgia

53.9% din 6.260

45.1% din 6.415

55.9% din 5.635

Applications for asylum

Moldova

475

1.850

3.675

Ukraine

14.090

22.100

12.460

Georgia

8.570

8.110

8.700

Source: European Commission report of December 2017

 

As regards Moldova, all its performance indicators worsened in 2016 compared with 2015. Besides the fact that Moldovans’ attempts to reach the EU without meeting the technical criteria increased in number, the illegal stay tendency also grew. At the same time, the number of returns decreased to under 50%, with the lowest number of Moldovans returning from Germany and Poland. The number of applications for asylum practically doubled. Apart from the technical indicators, the EU has reservations to Moldovan authorities’ efforts to counteract corruption and organized crime, requesting to complete the institutional reforms.

The situation in Ukraine seems to alarm the EU the most from the perspective of the risks deriving from illegal migration. The major problems of Georgia are more diverse and include illegal migration, crossborder implementation of the law, fighting of organized crime and even the anti-discrimination legislation. 

Instead of conclusion...

Not even after four years of the liberalization of visas, did Moldova manage to significantly improve the institutional mechanism for efficiently fighting corruption, including the political one, and the organized crime. At the same time, the indicators concerning the illegal stay, refusals of entry, applications for asylum and readmission have worsened. The publication of data for 2017 will show if the given deviations are turning into a clear tendency or not.

The rise in the number of trips made by Moldovans in the EU clearly shows that the integration into the European Union, on the one hand, acquires more substance, while on the other hand, the profile of beneficiary Moldovans diversifies. The non-attractiveness of the Moldovan economy and the economic turmoil in Russia can represent sources for the reorientation of Moldovan migrants to Europe, facilitated by the abuse of the visa-free regime.

The liberalization of visas is one of the most palpable results in Moldova’s rapprochement with the EU during the past four years. Besides the fact that the visa-free regime create advantages for practically any Moldovan citizen, the criteria for maintaining it are useful for promoting the reforms ignored by the national authorities. Ultimately, the liberalization of visas is among the few instruments generated by the extended dialogue with the EU, which is approved of by most of the political forces, including those with pro-Russian views.

 
Dionis Cenuşa

 


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