L’invité D&B: Absorption of Western Balkans in Europe and spiral of “unionism” in Moldova

By Dionis Cenuşa° – initially published on IPN

dionis_cenusa_thumb° Dionis Cenuşa is a political scientist from Moldova who works as Program Director on Energy Security at the Independent Economic Think-tank “Expert-Group”, based in Chisinau.

The distancing of Moldova from the European project can determine a radical review of the opinion of Moldovans with dual nationality, who do not yet support the unionist offer

A clear destiny for the Western Balkan countries inside the European Union is being shaped in Brussels. Surrounded by the EU countries, the given region became the subject of the new European “credible enlargement” and “extended commitment” strategy that is prioritized by the Bulgarian Presidency of the EU (IPN, January 2, 2018). The European officials anticipate that the first Balkan enlargement will take place at a distance of at least seven years, after 2025. Montenegro and Serbia head the list, while FYR Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo come last. The full absorption of the Western Balkans and the extension of the EU up to 33 states will have a concrete calendar that will be put into practice in time if the EU completes the own modernization and the digital, banking, energy and other types of integration… The functioning of the rule of law, enhancement of economic competitiveness and resolving of territorial disputes with the neighbors will impact the entry into the EU. Until then, Brussels is decided to strengthen the European democracy and to ease the process of taking decisions by favoring the vote with a qualified majority in areas that are considered more sensitive, such as foreign policy and domestic policy.

In the East, with recognized European aspirations, but with an invalidated integration perspective, Moldova witnesses the ascent of the unionist narrative in the public sphere. The promoters of unionism do not hide at all their utilitarian approach to the European integration. This seems not to bother the public opinion in Brussels, Bucharest and Chisinau.

The dispute over unionism has intensified. Some consider this is an anti-constitutional movement and an initiative to liquidate statehood. Others describe it as a manifestation of the freedom of expression and an attempt to correct the past that was mutilated by the arrangements of World War II.

However, there is no acknowledgement of the fact that unionism, regardless of the reasons that fuel it, is a serious challenge for the country’s European agenda. For most of the unionists, it is the final result that counts, which is the reunification with Romania, and this is usually presented as the only method of becoming part of Europe. Among the unionists, the European integration is regarded rather as an accelerator of the geopolitical interconnection with the European sphere and no way as a final target. This runs counter to the reasoning of internal transformations that are supported by the EU through the implementation of the Association Agreement, which is aimed at strengthening Moldova’s resilience and, consequently, at preventing the liquidation of Moldovan statehood, which is the unionists’ goal.

Eurointegration in Western Balkans, ascension of unionism in Moldova

Almost a decade ago, immediately after Romania’s entry into the EU, the politicians from both sides of the Prut River asserted that Moldova could benefit from the European perspective only if it got onto the “train of Western Balkans”. Some voices, including that of Traian Basescu, who served as President of Romania in 2004-2014, have suggested that Moldova’s European road would be successful if it goes through Bucharest.

The authentic reforms expected by the EU from the Western Balkans are as necessary for the Eastern Partnership countries, which are considered by Russia a geopolitical failure. The entry into the EU should be mandatorily preceded by consistent reforms that none of the regions delivers completely and irreversibly.

The efficiency of reforms seen in the Western Balkans means postponement of the entry, at the most.  The same thing has yet another significance for Moldova and other countries of the Eastern Partnership that have advanced relations with the EU. For the latter, the failure of reforms not only dissipates the European perspective, but can also encourage disintegration processes caused by the uncontrolled growth of loyalty to other legitimacy centers than the national ones.

As long as the unionist movement firmly pleads for the union with Romania, the regions dominated by philo-Russian groups reserve the right to seek help from Russia if Moldova disappears as a state entity.

During the first two months of 2018, over 30 Moldovan communities signed statements on the symbolic union with Romania so as to this way celebrate the centennial of the union of the Romanian principalities. Even if this gesture is symbolic for now, it mobilizes the pro-Russian political forces in Moldova, which invoke the necessity of a strategic dialogue with Russia in order to save Moldovan statehood.

Relevant figures about unionism

Invoking the necessity of projecting the personal data, the Romanian authorities do not publish aggregate official figures about the Moldovan citizens who regained Romanian nationality and came into possession of Romanian passports.

According to unofficial reports, the Moldovans with official Romanian identification papers could exceed 500,000, which is about 1/3 of the country’s population. The data available from Eurostatshow only information about the obtained nationalities (maximum 9,399 in 2009 and minimum 29 in 2006). This does not reflect the percentage of persons who benefitted from the nationality regaining procedure valid for citizens of Moldova, Ukraine and other countries of the region.

According to a poll by the Institute for Public Policy of 2007, only 7% of Moldovans said they possessed Romanian passports. The facilitation of the process of regaining Romanian nationality, especially during the second term in office of President Traian Basescu, and the elimination of restrictions for Romanian citizens as to the access to the EU labor market stirred up the Moldovans’ interest for Romanian identification papers.

The recent polls confirm that the unionist movement gains visibility and, respectively, attractiveness among Moldovans. The union with Romania is popular with 15-22% of Moldovans. However, over 50% are against this idea. (See Table below)


Table. Population’s options in an eventual referendum on union with Romania

  For Against I would not take part I don’t know/I didn’t decide I will not answer
November 2015






October 2016






November 2017






Source: http://www.ipp.md


Russian factor

Russia criticizes the EU’s plans to stimulate the European integration of the Western Balkans and uses arguments similar to those used to condemn the Western Balkans. More exactly, the Russian diplomatic service considers the EU makes the countries from these regions to choose between the West and Russia (MID.RU, February 2018). At the same time, according to Moscow, the EU becomes involved in the internal affairs of the Western Balkans when it promotes the reform agenda. The Russian side is also bothered by the too great speed at which the Europeans want to solve the problems existing in the region and by the chosen criteria that are related to justice, democracy, the mass media, etc.

The transformation of the Western Balkan countries and of the Eastern Partnership countries into functional democracy does not really suit Russia. That’s why this openly pleads for slower reforms and for no conditionality elements that would stimulate transformations according to the European model (democracy, justice etc.). The perspective of joining the EU is yet something wanted by the countries of the region, including by Russia’s ally Serbia.

In the case of Moldova and of the developing unionism, Russia does not have a pronounced position. First of all, unionism is used as a scarecrow for the pro-Russian forces to mobilize the voters for the parliamentary elections that could take place this December. Secondly, following the intensification of unionism, President Igor Dodon and other philo-Russian politicians will obtain new arguments for raising again the issue of the country’s federalization. Last but not least, by tolerating unionism Russia facilitates future animosities in Ukraine’s relationship with Romania, which already became tense following the adoption in 2017 of linguistic legislation that diminishes the share of studies in the mother tongues of ethnic minorities, including Romanians.

Instead of conclusion…

The Moldovans’ attitude to the union subject can vary from ideological and historical arguments to pragmatic and utilitarian arguments. It is yet certain that not all the Moldovans with Romanian papers are promoters of unionism.

The distancing of Moldova from the European project can determine a radical review of the opinion of Moldovans with dual nationality, who do not yet support the unionist offer.

Even if it is unpleasant and destructive for Russia’s geopolitical position in the region, unionism includes elements that can serve the Russian interests, such as the propelling of pro-Russian forces, promotion of the idea of federalizing Moldova and amplification of Ukraine’s mistrust in Romania.

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