Romania Is Left Without Schengen Again. What Does This Have to Do with Moldova?

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Anton SVET
Last week, the governments of Austria and the Netherlands blocked Romania and Bulgaria from joining the Schengen zone, triggering a major scandal in the EU establishment. Failure to resolve territorial issues with Moldova is one of the underlying reasons for this diplomatic defeat for Bucharest
All direct political decisions in the European Union are made exclusively by consensus, with rare exceptions, such as Hungary's refusal to adhere to the EU-wide “cap” on prices for Russian oil. Therefore, the consideration of the Romanian request to join the Schengen area for a long time is taking place in a scandalous atmosphere of mutual insults and misunderstandings. For almost 15 years, Romania and Bulgaria have not been able to get unanimous approval of their applications by all EU member states. As a result, Croatia, which joined the EU only in 2013, successfully resolved the “Schengen issue” last week, but Romania is still seen by some EU members, in particular Austria and the Netherlands, as a state unable to guarantee migration security at the community's external borders. And Vienna blatantly ignores all of Bucharest's political jabs, such as the withdrawal of the Romanian ambassador or the mass demonstration boycott of Austrian businesses. The Romanian government really hoped that the conflict in Ukraine would spur Brussels to a positive solution in the spirit of pan-European solidarity, especially since the Ukrainian drone had already fallen on Romanian territory – Poland and Moldova were affected much later. Especially since Romania is not a key transit point for Ukrainian refugees – officially there are about 100 thousand citizens of Ukraine, which is even less than in Moldova and significantly less than in Poland. Also, most of the transit routes of African and Arab migrants from Turkey do not touch Romanian territory. The migration crisis, which the European Union faced five years ago, has barely touched Bucharest. However, Romanian citizens themselves are actively employed in the countries of the European community, including illegally, thus creating migration risks. In addition, a significant threat, which is not publicly discussed, is related to the very cunning relationship between Bucharest and Chisinau. After all, Romania, as a matter of principle, keeps its doors open for the “unirea”, and this policy is not only symbolic, but also quite practical in nature. There is still no delimited and demarcated state border between the two banks of the Prut, and there is no full-fledged Romanian-Moldovan interstate treaty on the border. On the contrary, projects of joint patrolling and management of the state border are being implemented, which are actually aimed at dragging Moldova into a common customs and migration space with Romania. The issue of “unirea” is constantly in political and informational play, having long ago ceased to be a topic that is only exploited by marginal parties. On the contrary, the discussion of the prospects of uniting the two banks of the Prut has become a political mainstream. Neither the President, nor the Speaker of our Parliament denies this possibility. Joint meetings of the Governments have resumed, and general meetings of the Parliaments have been added to them, the energy systems are coupled, and mutual trade is flourishing. There is mutual penetration in educational and religious spheres, in terms of professional and academic mobility. Simultaneously, our people are vigorously documented with Romanian passports. Of key importance is the language issue which our leadership settled in favour of the Romanian language, defiantly ignoring legislation to protect Russian as a language of inter-ethnic communication and the linguistic rights of minorities. The ideological component of the future association is reinforced by the compulsory study of Romanian history. However, amid the de facto integration and unification of the two banks of the Prut, with a non-zero probability that these processes will be formalized, there emerge significant additional risks because of the unresolved conflict with the breakaway Transdniestria. It was only this year that the central authorities gained full control over migration flows due to the closure of the Transdniestrian section of the border with Ukraine. Meanwhile, there is no proper border between the two banks of the Dniester on our side. Goods and vehicles carefully inspected, people circulate relatively freely inside Moldova. However, not all Transdniestrian residents, especially Russian military personnel and members of the local political elite, have Moldovan citizenship. At present, there is no solution to the Transdniestrian problem, considering the paralyzed 5+2 format, the conflict in Ukraine and deteriorating relations between the banks of the Dniester. This complicates any attempts to ensure Moldova’s full compliance with the requirements of the common European space. In turn, “unirea” becomes an unsolvable dilemma in such circumstances. In this sense, the logic of Vienna and Amsterdam is quite rational. Brussels is presumably taking this logic into account as well, as it is not currently seeking to influence the views of dissenters in a directive manner. EU is comfortable with two countries assuming political and diplomatic risks by blocking a decision whose implementation would be difficult for the entire union. It’s simple math – Chisinau is reluctant to set a full border along the Dniester, Bucharest is unwilling to officially give up plans to “restore a great Romania” which means it does not want to establish a border along the Prut. As a result, Romania is left out of the Schengen area, as the latter simply cannot be built on the “migration matryoshka” principle when it’s not clear who controls what and who’s responsible for what. Perhaps, internal political changes in Austria and the Netherlands will in time change these countries’ position on the Romanian and Bulgarian applications. However, everyone understands that any such decision would be purely political. Compliance with the real technical and migration requirements is directly linked to the settlement of the Transdniestrian conflict and a clear position on the future of the “unirea”. Otherwise, Bucharest’s “Schengen plans” may remain in the “transit zone” for years to come.