Enlargement: EU’s backdoor thrown open

A Romanian border guard at Sculeni, on the frontier with Moldova
A Romanian border guard at Sculeni, on the frontier with Moldova
16 August 2010 – Le Figaro (Paris)

Millions of Turks, Serbs, Moldovans, Ukrainians and Macedonians could soon be European citizens, thanks to some fancy footwork by new member states

Already dealing with growing unease over immigration, and with publics haunted by the spectre of "invasion", the European Union could have done without three of its newest members effectively opening a backdoor on fortress Europe. Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria have to some extent infringed the terms of their mission to secure the EU’s eastern borders by allowing up to five million Moldovans, Macedonians, Serbs, Ukrainians and Turks to avail of procedures to obtain European passports.

History and the perceived injustices of the past have provided them with a means to circumvent immigration barriers. While Hungarian, Romanian and Bulgarian political leaders are hoping to reap the benefits of being perceived as the bearers of this unexpected gift, officials in the capitals of Old Europe are none too happy.

A new Hungarian law on dual nationality, which could concern up to 3.5 million people, will offer the keys to the European labour market to 300,000 Serbs of Hungarian origin in the autonomous province of Vojvodina and to 150,000 ethnic Hungarians in the Ukraine when it comes into force in January. It has also ratcheted up tensions between Hungary and two other EU states: 1.4 million Magyars live in Romania, and there are 520,000 Hungarians in Slovakia (10 % of the population). Slovak authorities were particularly offended by the plan.

The bill proposed by right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban and supported by the extreme-right in the Budapest parliament, can be interpreted as a revenge or a provocation. Hungary has never really recovered from the trauma of the Trianon Treaty, which cut away two thirds of the country’s territory and effectively exiled half of its population in June 1920. By way of reprisal, the parliament in Bratislava adopted a law stipulating that anyone who availed of the offer of Hungarian nationality would automatically lose their Slovak passport.

Blood ties

A little more prudent in their response, the Romanian government was eager to downplay the measure: first and foremost because a section of the Hungarian minority in Transylvania has on occasion publicly demanded the re-establishment of an autonomous Szekler Land, and also because Bucharest could hardly complain in view of the fact that it has also implemented very similar legislation.

In April 2009, Traian Basescu simplified procedures for the granting citizenship to Moldovans of Romanian origin. "We are obliged to respect the blood ties that bind us together, and to offer our support," announced the Romanian president. Moldova has had a troubled history since it was created by Stalin from territory detached from the Ukraine and the province of Bessarabia, which was part of Romania from 1918 to 1940 and from 1941 to 1944. Two-thirds of the Moldovan population are Romanian speakers while the other third speak Russian. With a population of roughly four million, it is a small and extremely poor country. A third of its citizens of working age have been forced find jobs abroad, where more often than not they are employed illegally.

It is for this reason that the “open-sesame” to the EU could have the unwanted effect of encouraging the break-up of a fragile state that is already in the throes of an identity crisis, casting doubts about its viability. Approximately 120,000 Moldovans have a Romanian passport, 800,000 more have applied to obtain one, and all of the indications are that these figures are set to increase. With funding from the EU, Bucharest has opened two new consulates in the towns of Bălţi and Cahul.

Bulgarian refugees in Turkey

Following Hungary’s example, Bulgaria has simplified procedures for the granting of Bulgarian nationality to approximately 2.5 millions Bulgarians living in areas scattered across the Ukraine, Moldova, Albania and Greece and in particular in Macedonia and Turkey. On this basis, roughly 1.4 million Macedonians (or three-quarters of the Macedonian population) will now be able to obtain European passports. For certain historians, Macedonians are a subgroup of the Bulgarian nation, and the Macedonian language is simply a dialect of Bulgarian.

Sofia is also concerned about the fate of Bulgarian Turks and Pomaks (Bulgarians who converted to Islam during the Ottoman period). Before the fall of communism, this minority, which includes an estimated 900,000 people, was the victim of a policy of forced assimilation and discrimination that continued right up to the fall of communism. The 350,000 Turks and Pomaks who fled to Turkey to escape this oppression will now not have to wait for the completion of accession negotiations with Ankara before they apply to obtain EU passports.

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