Can Europe Make It?

How will the EU disseminate passports to "ethnically recognised" people in non-EU countries?

Karl Littlejohn
17 February 2014

Having an interest in European regional identities, I often come across nations within nations. These can also be referred to as regions which hold their own cultural and most often linguistic attributes. Relating to the recent controversy of Malta’s citizenship scheme, regional identities also come into play. Apart from Austria and Cyprus, which also have citizenship by investment schemes, there are other countries in the EU which grant citizenship on a basis quite other than financial investment. Probably the most known and controversial cases are linked to Romania and Hungary.

Ethnic Hungarians account for almost 7% of Romania’s overall population. They mainly live in the western regions of the country such as Transylvania, Marmureș and Crișana. Also a sizeable minority of Hungarians live in Slovakia. The origin of these minorities can be traced back to the Treaty of Trianon in 1920, where Hungary lost two thirds of its territory, mainly to Slovakia and Romania

The Hungarian minority was heavily discriminated against under Ceaucescu’s regime. After the fall of Ceaucescu’s regime in Romania in the late 1980’s/ early 1990’s, the issue between the Hungarian minority and the Romanians seemed to be settled, but it did not take long for problems to appear again between the two communities.

In 2010, Hungary began issuing citizenships to ethnic Hungarians living in Romania and Slovakia. Despite Romania becoming a member of the EU in 2007, it did not ratify the Schengen treaty until January this year. Therefore, ethnic Hungarians living in Romania who already had Romanian citizenship, now also had the Hungarian one. This meant that they could easily access the EU market by joining the Schengen area, since Hungary became a full member of the EU way back in 2004.

But the issue of passports was not only coming from Hungary. Romania has also been issuing passports to a non-EU country: Moldova. The two countries have a long history of cultural and linguistic affinities going back at least three centuries. After the Second World War, the Soviet Union managed to occupy Moldova and a period of heavy Russification followed. National feelings were suppressed until Gorbachov’s reforms gave some space to national thinking. The Romanian spoken in Moldova is referred to as ‘Moldovan’ according to the country’s constitution. In the beginning of the twenty-first century the Republic of Moldova was run by a leader who outlawed any dual citizenships. This however was challenged by the ECHR.

The thing is that most Moldovans are not really interested in moving to Romania, but are more eager to work in western Europe. Granting Romanian passports to Moldovans is an easy gateway to the EU market, without it being necessary for Moldova to become a member of the European Union. This is not in any way citizenship by investment, but handing out passports to thousands of people just because they are ‘ethnically recognised.’

The discussion on Moldovan identity has always been on the top of the agenda amongst scholars interested in the Balkan and Slavic regions. A public survey conducted by CBS-AXA in 2012 revealed that around 16% of people living in Moldova believe that their country should be annexed with Romania. Another study in 2012, this time in Romania, explains that an astonishing 87% of Romanians believe that Bessarabia (the term used to refer to Moldova) should be part of Romania.

Today, acquiring citizenship of any EU country means that you get a European one too. In Malta’s case it caused some havoc in some EU institutions. As we’ve seen, a vote was taken on the citizenship scheme in the European Parliament, and the EU commission at first condemned the scheme as it saw it as going against European values 

Now that an agreement between the government of Malta and the EU commission has been reached, it will be interesting to see how the EU’s policy on citizenship evolves.

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