Moldova-Romania unification, migration and European integration in the East, Op-Ed



The stagnation or re-launch of European integration can have a direct impact on the Unionist events in the Moldovan society. This reasoning encourages pro-Russian forces in Moldova to maintain European integration in the equation, although as part of a balanced foreign policy...


Dionis Cenuşa, Senior Contributor

The conviction that the real opportunities are outside Moldova achieved a stronger character in society and did not show any signs of fatigue. Leaving the country has become a simple and inexpensive way to achieve the "non-Moldovan dream". Various circumstances encourage the Moldovan population, regardless of the spoken language and ethnicity, to opt for the West. On the one hand, when confronted with the daily routine, he reasons that come to the surface lie in poor quality and reduced availability of the services provided by the state, as well as the dubious integrity of the public sector in itself. The tempting echoes of living standards in Europe, on the other hand, constitute another robust consideration that stimulates the frequent crossing of the country's borders.

Although Romania is essential for the "transit" to other geographical destinations, this is not the priority of migration from Moldova. Initially, Moldovan citizens needed transport routes in Romania to reach new geographical points. After the diversification of the air routes from Chisinau, the Romanian identity documents serve as an essential facilitating element for the socio-economic movement from Moldova to Europe. Therefore, the possession of a Romanian passport combines an accentuated material value so far superior to the historical-identity symbolism. In other words, migration can trivialize and weaken the relationship between Moldovan citizens and Romanian identity. At the same time, the possibility of obtaining Romanian acts through acts of corruption (, January, 2020), recently investigated, highlights the materialistic approach to the real motivations to approach the political-civil line with Romania.

Implications of the migration

"Unionism" in Moldova would eventually take on deeper roots, if the population inside Romania would not show that the Romanian state is facing deficiencies, calling for emigration. The trends of the Romanian migration confirm that there is a public structural dissatisfaction that does not diminish due to the Euro-Atlantic integration, previously seen as a point of attraction, necessarily effective (IPN, April 2018). The power of political and socio-economic transformations at home is in inefficient competition with the solutions already available abroad, in Europe.

The data reported by the OECD show that, in the period 2015-2016, over 3.6 million Romanians of all ages lived outside Romania. Under such conditions, the regaining of citizenship by the Moldovan population does not feed the demographic basin within Romania, but instead increases the size of the "Romanian diaspora". However, the new Romanian citizens originating from Moldova also make up the regional migration flows, instead of being naturalized in Romania.

The growing political role of the Romanian diaspora in the protests against the PSD's attempts to annihilate anti-corruption policies explains the ability and political will of those who emigrated to compensate and boost the civic attitude left at home. The emancipated diaspora encourages the ​​migration and strengthens the evidence that the Romanian state is facing various dysfunctions - which may additionally affect the intensity of "unionism" in its eastern neighbour.

Post-Brexit EU and the "unionism"

As yet unfinished, the UK's departure from the EU already creates the real opportunity to deepen and standardize integration into continental Europe. The Paris-Berlin-Warsaw triangle could redefine the European agenda. Even if the Polish leadership undermines the authority of the European institutions, the French leader Emmanuel Macron is counting on Poland (Politico, February 2020), as part of the strategy to "focus on the East" after Brexit. Being a regional economy that absorbs migration from the East, with a rising population (37.8 million) and a significant representation in the European Parliament (52 MEPs), Poland needs to be involved in European affairs. Advancing European integration with Polish participation can be beneficial if the "Law and Justice" Party, controlled by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, abandons the extremist right-wing corner.

Further Poland in defining European strategies will improve the attitude towards deepening European integration within the EU and its enlargement abroad. Unblocking EU enlargement favours supporters of unification with Romania because both Moldova and the other countries associated with the EU can claim easier from a European perspective than to seek shortcuts. Moreover, European integration assists unionist aspirations in Moldovan society and does not suppress them.

Surveys show that in 2019, almost 1/3 of the population would have agreed with the unification with Romania, compared to about 20% reported in 2017 (IPN, February 2018). Such positioning is slightly overlapping with pro-EU feelings (58%), dominant in the public preferences. Besides, half of the population prefers the Eurasian Union. Thus, it is visible that the polarization of society is not shrinking as a result of stagnation or worsening economic and governance conditions. Therefore, the likely expansion of the "pro-unification" views encounters ideological obstacles of geopolitical nature. Moreover, some obstacles consist of a very pragmatic justification. That derives from the utilitarian thinking towards the Romanian identity in order to make possible the emigration.

Unification with Romania - existential alternative or a feasible political project

As provided by the declaration of the Romanian Parliament, unanimously voted in March 2018, Romania is in favour of a possible "organic" unification with the Republic of Moldova. Also, the Government of Romania runs a specialized department for dealing with the Moldovan-Romanian relations, established in January 2020. The two pillars of the department's activity combine the identity-cultural and infrastructure issues (EuropaLibera, February 2020). The political intention to turn the department into a genuine "ministry" will confirm later on how serious Romania's preparations are for a possible unification.

Meanwhile, on the left bank of the Prut River, the parties that support unionism are testing voters' trust by launching a common platform - the "Unirea" Movement, but which only has five parties. Mutual distrust and fierce competition for political resources impede the establishment of a single centre of "unionist" forces. For this reason, the public perception regarding the unification with Romania is missing from the decision-making processes. Voters could contribute to ensuring a sufficient representation of the unionism in parliament, if it sensed a unique political identity, instead of two or more.

The 2020 presidential elections become an opportunity for the launch of a Unionist candidate (Octavian Țîcu), who has public support lower than the popularity of Igor Dodon or Maia Sandu. The slim chances of creating political competition do not discourage unionists. They tend to become more visible and mix with the voter pool of Maia Sandu, where the attitude towards unionist rhetoric is pragmatic and inhibited. However, it seems risky to operationalize unionism as long as the voters see it neither as a feasible political project nor as an existential alternative for Moldova. Merging unionist forces would be the first precondition for promoting unionism as a credible national idea. If good governance becomes a reality in Romania and the EU enlargement to the east is frozen, then the population can think of a unionist alternative. The worsening of the performance of the Moldovan governments or the geopolitical proximity to Russia can also accelerate the unionist thinking.

Instead of conclusions...

“Unionism” cannot in any way disappear from the thinking in Moldova. However, it contains structural weaknesses that make it irrelevant to the majority of the population. However, Romania could invent new ways to attract Moldovan citizens, in addition to the facilitated citizenship. Such a step would be for Romania to become an attractive labour market and public services pool for the Moldovan population, who right now leave Moldova and is also disinterested in Romania.

The Romanian investments in the Moldovan infrastructure diminish the shortcomings of the Moldovan state. As a result, the contemplation about unification as an existential alternative by the population is reducing. Therefore, the multiplication of Moldovan-Romanian interconnection paths could be of greater importance.

European integration is a useful solution to contain unionism. Ten years ago, the visa liberalization with the EU was treated, among other things, as a way to slow down the pace to regain the Romanian citizenship. The stagnation or re-launch of European integration can have a direct impact on unionist thinking in the Moldovan society as well. This situation encourages pro-Russian forces in Moldova to withhold the European integration in the equation, albeit as part of the balanced foreign policy.


Dionis Cenuşa, Senior Contributor
Dionis Cenușa is a political scientist, researcher at the Institute of Political Sciences at Liebig-Justus University in Giessen, Germany, MA degree in Interdisciplinary European Studies from the College of Europe in Warsaw.
Areas of research: European Neighborhood Policy, EU-Moldova relationship, EU's foreign policy and Russia, migration and energy security.
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IPN publishes in the Op-Ed rubric opinion pieces submitted by authors not affiliated with our editorial board. The opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily coincide with the opinions of our editorial board.

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