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Romania - the Challenges for EU’s New (Eastern) Frontier

, by Doru Frantescu

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The report of the European Commission released on September 26th signals not only that the beginning of 2007 will find the EU family strengthened by two new states - Romania and Bulgaria - it also establishes a new Eastern frontier for the EU. In the light of the Dublin Convention, asylum seekers applying in any EU country will fall under the responsibility of the country whose border they have crossed first.

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From 2007, the border-state statute will put Romania in the situation of receiving an important number of migrants coming from further East. Considering the yet low social and economic capacity of Romania, as well as of Bulgaria, such an influx will put a serious problem to the new members. Seeing it from this perspective, maybe it is time for EU states to start showing solidarity in the issue of immigrants’ management by measures of burden-sharing.

So far, the former communist countries have been seen by the Western EU members as sources of migration. With the 2004 and 2007 enlargements the situation becomes somewhat different. Accession to EU is associated with economic prosperity, particularly in the case of Eastern European countries. It is expected that integration with the EU economy will diminish the regional unbalances between new and old members. At the same time, it will increase the gap between the new members and their non-EU neighbors. As a result, citizens of the states from the latter category become interested in crossing the border in the quest for better-paid jobs.

Romania’s particularity

For its pat, Romania borders two non-EU states, Ukraine and Moldova, as well as the Black Sea. There are some particular features that single out Romania as a special EU border state. Firstly, its special relation with Moldova: the latter, apart from being Europe’s poorest country, is also seen as Romania’s “little brother”, as the majority of the population in Moldova speaks Romanian as their mother tongue, due to common historical background. Language is also the reason for which citizens of Moldova choose to immigrate to Romania. They have been doing so for the past 15 years to the extent that, since 1997, they represent 75% of the immigrant population in Romania, and it is unlikely that the closing of the border in 2007 will decrease significantly the level of migration. It will only make it illegal.

A second particular feature is that, in comparison with other EU Eastern frontiers such as the Baltic States, Romania is geographically closer to the nucleon of the richer EU states. As some studies show that in the 21st Century the main source of migration in the world will be Asia, others, more focused ones, foresee that the preferred route towards the EU will be through Central Asia – South Caucasus – Black Sea – Romania.

Legal measures and absorbtion capacities

While the legal component of migration will head mainly towards more developed EU members, according to the 1990 Dublin Convention and the Decision 343/2003 of the Council, migrants who cross borders illegally will have to be handled by the authorities of the country whose border they have crossed first. One of the ideas behind such regulations is to determine Border States to show responsibility and enforce border control.

Romania, for its part, has undertaken the needed measures in the effort of securing its Eastern frontier. It has also received significant support from the EU in the form of funds and logistical support. However, as experience has shown in older EU states, strengthening the border controls is not enough for preventing illegal immigration. It is widely-known among the Europeans the problems that Spain has been confronted with as a result of the increasing number of migrants coming from Africa.

Most importantly, unlike the old EU states, new members do not have by far the capacity of dealing with illegal immigrants. Studies show that in Greece for instance, the cost for social support of an immigrant who has requested asylum reaches 9 euros a day. If we take into account that this is more than an average Romanian worker is gaining, it becomes obvious that Romania will not be able to provide funds for this purpose. The situation is pretty much the same in Bulgaria and other Eastern members.

Conclusion

An important objective for the long-term development of the EU is reducing unbalances between its members. To this purpose, it becomes clear that paying more attention to the challenges that new members will face after accession is vital. Immigration becomes an important challenge for the new members, as it can inhibit their economic development by pulling away important financial resources. To prevent this from happening, the EU should find new approaches to the rules of responsibility for dealing with the immigrants, moving away from the concept that this is the responsibility of a particular state, especially when this state has yet a vulnerable economy.

The principle of solidarity requires member states to take a burden-sharing approach and the EU institutions need to be given the power to enforce it.

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