EU dismayed by Romania mass citizenship plan
EU institutions are appalled at Romania's proposal to give citizenship to up to 1 million Moldovans - a project that could damage Romania's standing inside the union.
If the scheme goes ahead and Moldova retaliates by making dual citizenship illegal, the EU country would effectively annex one quarter of its neighbour's population in a scenario described by one EU official as "frightening" in terms of regional stability.
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Several EU staff questioned by EUobserver on Thursday (16 April) believed the plan is political bluster ahead of Romania presidential elections and will never come to pass.
"This is just a proposal, an expression of will. I am not sure if it is not just a political statement," EU foreign relations spokeswoman Christina Gallach said.
But the Czech EU presidency publicly rebuked Bucharest after a meeting between Czech EU minister Alexandr Vondra and Romanian foreign minister Cristian Diaconescu, in a sign of rising tension within the bloc.
"I told my Romanian colleague about our serious concerns of the possible risks arising from adopting simplified procedures for Romanian citizenship," Mr Vondra said.
Bucharest on Wednesday night put forward a bill to extend the right to naturalisation for Moldovans whose grandparent or great-grandparent was a Romanian. Previously, only Moldovans with Romanian grandparents could apply.
The draft law - which still needs parliamentary approval - also cut the deadline for processing paperwork from six months to five months and dropped a Romanian language test.
The move is a tit-for-tat reaction to Moldova's decision to impose visa requirements on Romanian citizens after accusing Romania of trying to stage a coup following elections last week.
Under EU law, Romania is free to give citizenship to anybody it likes.
EU states in any case collectively naturalise over 730,000 people a year in what amounts to an annual mini-enlargement, bigger in scale than the individual populations of the smallest member states, Malta and Luxembourg.
In 2006 - the latest data available - the UK and France each gave citizenship to some 150,000 people, while Germany gave passports to 125,000 individuals. But mass-scale naturalisation on the Romania-Moldova model would be unprecedented.
The Spanish gambit
Spain in 2005 "normalised" 600,000 irregular migrants. The move stopped short of granting EU citizenship but did give permanent residency and right to work, with Madrid at the time facing strong criticism for failing to consult EU colleagues.
Poland at one point mooted offering citizenship to up to 1 million ethnic Poles left in Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan following post-World War II changes to its borders and Stalinist relocations.
But Warsaw feared potential complications in its bid to join the EU's passport-free Schengen zone. The final deal in 2007 - the right for ethnic Poles to apply for a "Polish Card" - limited rights to a refund of visa costs, access to healthcare and a cheap bus pass.
"People still haven't quite forgiven Spain. You see that in the little obstacles put in their way during day-to-day talks on immigration matters," one EU diplomat said. "The EU institutions have a long memory."