Moldova: towards a strengthening of the migration crisis from the eastern flank of the EU?

Moldova: towards a strengthening of the migration crisis from the eastern flank of the EU?

7 novembre 2018 0 Par Pierre-Emmanuel Thomann

The attention in the media and in political debates focuses almost exclusively on the migration crisis  originating from the southern flank of the European Union,  an arc of crisis that stretches from the Atlantic to Afghanistan, passing through the Mediterranean, but also the Sahel region. However, the migration crisis started before if we take into account the flows originating from the Eastern flank of the European Union, and its political consequences. The enlargement of the EU to Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans provided an opportunity for the most economically developed member states to open their borders to millions of migrant workers. Thus, more than 3 million Romanians for example left their country to work further west.We did not talk about a migration crisis, but the consequences of these flows have nevertheless contributed significantly to the crisis of the European Union, notably with the Brexit, but also the controversy over the Posting of Workers Directive. Migration flows from the new Member States have caused a negative reaction in part of the EU population. The migration factor has been a major trigger in the UK for the loss of confidence in the EU that led to Brexit after the referendum. The Posting of Workers Directive was accused of favoring the lowest common denominator in terms of wages and social protection due to the different legislations between the old Member States and the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. The migration flows generated have aggravated the crisis of legitimacy of the European Union for a large part of citizens..

While some European citizens were unhappy, these flows also benefited some economic sectors in the West. However, the benefits were very unequally distributed. Today the problem persists and will moves further East if prospects of EU enlargement to the Eastern Partnership countries is emerging in the long term.  Of course, there is no mention of enlargement promises in the Eastern Partnership documents . Yet, it is easy to see that all the EU member countries behind the creation of the Eastern Partnership and those who most support this process of cooperation are in favor of future EU expansion to the East. Partnership countries such as Ukraine and Moldova are also in favor of EU accession, but they know it is in the best case a distant prospect. The Member States are obviously divides on this issue  because of  EU public opinion  EU  skeptical if further EU enlargement, but countries in favor of EU enlargement will inevitably seek to bring this issue back to the center of the European agenda.

Romania, for example, is in favor of EU enlargement to Moldova mostly for geopolitical reasons. Romania no longer wants to remain a peripheral state of the EU, but is in favour of EU to the north-east, in order to be surrounded by allies. Each new EU member state is thus seeking to move the EU’s borders to obtain a more central position on the geopolitical map, resulting in a snowball effect and an over-extension of the EU. Some Romanians even favor a union between Romania and Moldova for historical reasons that date back to the time when a part of the territory of Moldova called Bessarabia belonged to Romania. It is for this reason that Romania, supported by member states such as Germany are promoting the Westernization of their eastern flank and wants an ever closer relationship between the EU and the Eastern Partnership countries. If an ever closer cooperation continues, we can easily anticipate a worsening of the migratory flows. These flows are already very important from Moldova to the other EU states, because of the large economic differentials. These flows could aggravate the migratory crisis that will become systemic with the growing demography in Africa. The damage to countries of origin can also be important. The « brain drain » of labor force in Moldova is a very important factor for  Moldova’s difficulty in modernizing its economy. The increase of migration flows will also influence debates on potential EU’s membership, and EU internal debates as it happened in the case of  Brexit.

Important elections will be held in Moldova next 2019 February. The country is torn between political forces in favor of a Westernization of the country and a rapprochement with the EU and NATO, and those in favor of more cooperation with the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). Moldovan citizens are divided between these two orientations but a growing part is opposed to a closer together with the EU like  its president Igor Dodon while the government is pro-European Union. The next elections will more clearly determine the geopolitical orientation of the country. For the moment, a precarious equilibrium policy is being pursued, and this is also reflected in the migratory flows: more than 60% go to the East, mainly Russia, while 40% go to the West. In the event of a stronger victory of the forces promoting  more integration with the EU, the relations between Moldova and Russia are likely to be tense. This might  cause a reorientation of the migratory flows towards the EU, de facto aggravating  the migration crisis of the EU, but from the eastern flank. Moreover, a more pronounced orientation towards the EU will inevitably revive the question of  EU’s enlargement to Moldova. This perspective will reactivate the internal geopolitical rivalry within the EU, particularly between the countries of Central Europe and the Mediterranean countries, especially Germany and France. Their geopolitical orientations remain different. France is trying to stop the shift of the EU’s center of gravity towards the East since German unification and the extension of the EU to the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. This is why  France is opposed to any further enlargement. France wants a  reform of the EU before any prospect of further enlargement, while Germany has in the past favored enlargement to position itself at the center of Europe. Germany is therefore today in favor of EU enlargement to the Western Balkans. Germany  would like to make it a successful step in the ongoing process of Westernization of the Eurasian continent, and possibly promoting in the longer term furthert enlargement to Eastern Partnership countries. Moldova, like the other countries of the Eastern Partnership, are thus likely to reactivate geopolitical rivalries within the EU.