The visa-free regime for Moldova took effect two years ago, on April 28. This way Moldova became the first Eastern Partnership country where the biometric passport owners can travel visa free in the Schengen Area (90 days during 180 days). Thus, the Moldovans can now easier travel to the EU member states, except for the UK and Ireland, saving by €35 on each Schengen visa annulled by the EU member states.
About 1.5 million Moldovans possess biometric passports
Despite the significance of visa liberalization for Moldova’s practical rapprochement with the EU, the importance of this accomplishment was widely underappreciated by a large part of the people in the country. For some, the elimination of the Schengen visas was useless as these possess Romanian papers that automatically make them European citizens with broader rights, including the right to become employed in Europe. Others do not have financial possibilities to be able to travel visa free in the EU given the related costs that are much higher than the average salary per country (less than €200 a month).
However, almost half of Moldova’s population came into possession of biometric passports. According to the official data of the state-run Information Resources Center “Registru”, 1,437,264 million biometric passports have been issued since December 2015. Evidently, the number of Moldovans who really tried the visa-free trips is much lower. Thus, during the first year since the abolition of the visa requirements, about 400,000 Moldovans traveled in the EU using biometric passports.
Liberalization of visas in the region
The annulment of the visas for Moldovans aroused a constant interest on the part of Georgia and Ukraine, which, during the last two years, made effort to learn from Moldova’s experience. In 2016, the European Commission recommended abolishing the visa requirements both for Georgia and for Ukraine. According to the European schedule, the Schengen visas will be initially annulled for Georgia, before the parliamentary elections set to take place there this October. Ukraine is to achieve the same objective until the end of 2016.
Anyway, the annulment of visas for Moldova is not a definitive process. It is only a stage of a continuous process that depends on the way in which the national borders and migration are managed by the authorities. Also, the reintroduction of visas can be avoided if Moldova respects without deviations the rules of the game concerning readmission and observance of human rights, strengthened by antidiscrimination legislation. Georgia and Ukraine will have to fulfill similar requirements. In the medium and long term, the possible negative developments in the Schengen Area, which is exposed to enormous pressure owing to the refugee crisis fuelled by the continuous flow of illegal migrants, must not be ignored.
Advantages and risks
The liberalization of the visa regime produced visible positive effects on the people from the Transnistrian region. Until December 2015, the number of biometric passports issued to those from the left side of the Nistru River exceeded 97,000, which is about one third of the region’s population of approximately 300,000, according to unofficial reports. Indirectly, the abolition of the visa requirements by the EU contributes to the voluntary reconnection of the people from the region with the Moldovan constitutional authorities.
The major risks to the integrity of the visa liberalization process include the falsification of Moldovan biometric passports by criminal groups, by corrupting courts of law or employees responsible for issuing documents. A series of schemes involving Ukrainian citizens were recently identified. But the number of false documents is low. There are no data about the cases when Ukrainians, Russians or people of other nationalities obtained Moldovan biometric passports through the Transnistrian region. It is yet definite that such schemes will become unpopular when the EU liberalizes the visa regime with Ukraine.
Instead of conclusion...
The visa-free regime represents a major accomplishment in Moldova’s relations with the EU, even if this was favored by geopolitical factors. Considerable effort needs to be made further to maintain this regime.
The administration of migration and good border management are essential for the liberalization of visas not to be endangered. Even if they are not great in size, corruption and other offences related to the falsification of biometric passports arouse concern that should be seriously addressed by the authorities. Ultimately, in the medium and long term, the keeping of the liberalized visa regime for Moldova depends on the stability of the European agenda in Chisinau and the survival of the Schengen Area in the context of the refugee crisis and flow of illegal migrants.
Dionis Cenușa is a politologist, holding an MA degree in interdisciplinary European studies from the College of Europe.
Areas of interes: European integration, European policies, EU's foreign policy, migration and energy security.
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