Capital Bucureşti
Time Zone EEST (GMT+2)
Country Code 40
Mobile Codes 71,72,73,74,75,76,77,78
ccTLD .ro
Currency Leu nou (1EUR = 4.1 RON)
Land Area 238,391 sq km
Population 22 million
Language Romanian
Major Religion Orthodox Christianity

Romanian-Moldovan Relations: A Contemporary Overview

By Tatiana Drăguțan* Editor’s Note: with only three days to go until Romania’s referendum decides the fate of President Băsescu, this comprehensive special report examines the state of relations between the country and its important eastern neighbor- a relationship of great interest to Russia and the EU.


 On July 16, 2012, Romanian President Traian Băsescu had a meeting with Moldovan bloggers and journalists. The meeting occurred precisely during the referendum campaign that has followed the president’s suspension by parliament. The referendum will be held on July 29.

Băsescu’s visit could be explained in part by the fact that a certain number of “new” Romanian citizens, the large majority of whom voted for him in the last presidential elections, live in the Republic of Moldova.

Romania’s citizenship law allows former Romanian citizens who lost their citizenship against their will, as well as their descendants up to the third generation, to apply individually to regain it. Therefore there are Ukrainian and Moldovan citizens who have obtained Romanian citizenship.

In Chisinau, Băsescu met with certain journalists and bloggers, and discussed Romanian-Moldovan relations during his presidency. Considering Băsescu’s currently low popularity at home, however, it is not sure that he will remain in office after the referendum.

Present Relations: Improvements Compared to 2009

Present relations between the two countries are much better than was the case during the period when the Moldovan Communist Party was governing the Republic of Moldova. Soon after the summer 2009 parliamentary elections, concrete initiatives were made to improve the situation. One significant step was the dissolution of a visa regime for Romanian citizens that had been created by the Communist government during the April 2009 riots in Chisinau; besides irritating Romanians, the short-lived visa regime also violated agreements Romania had with the EU related to a visa-free regime for EU citizens.

Another helpful step taken after the summer 2009 elections was the enlargement of Romania’s network of consulates in Moldova, with new ones opened in Cahul and Balti, and a consular office in Ungheni. Also, the Small Border Trafficking Agreement was signed in November 2009, and a long-awaited border treaty, in November 2010.

Nevertheless, despite these positive developments, several important and sometimes controversial issues exist that have to be considered when speaking about Moldovan-Romanian relations.

Identity Issue

The issue of identity is probably the most sensitive one between the two states, and largely accounts for occasional deteriorations in relations between them.

Historically, almost all of the present Republic of Moldova’s territory was part of modern Romania in the interwar period, and part of the Principality of Moldavia until 1812. According to the latest census (2004), the large majority of the population is Romanian.

It is to be mentioned that the majority call themselves Moldovans and not Romanians. Nevertheless, if both Moldovans and Romanians are assigned to the same ethnic group, that of Romanian, 75.8% (or, 69.5% if including the self-proclaimed, autonomous but non-recognized Transnistria) declare themselves Moldovans. According to the census, 2.2% declared themselves as Romanians (or 2% if including Transnistria), another 8.4% (or, 11.2% if including Transnistria) declared themselves Ukrainian, while the Russian population was declared at 5.9% (9.4% if including Transistria).

Despite the relatively small size of Russian minority, there seems to be a general perception that it should be larger. One reason for this is that many representatives from other national minorities (such as the Romanian one) suffered from an intense process of Russification under the Soviet Union.

While the constitutional language of Moldova is called Moldovan, it is self-evident that Moldovan is Romanian, and no scholars support the idea of a Moldovan language distinct from Romanian. Today, some Moldovan citizens call themselves Romanians, but the large majority call themselves Moldovans.

Therefore, while the majority agree that the Moldovan language is in fact Romanian, when it comes to Moldovan identity things are slightly different. The idea of Moldovanism as a separate identity has been widely present in the public discourse of Moldovan politicians in the years after Moldova got its independence. But no scholars support the existence of a Moldovan ethnicity as distinct from the Romanian one, except for the Soviet scholars.

“Moldovanism” was made up in the interwar period, and was part of the Stalinist policy for remodelling nations and ethnic groups so widely practiced in the USSR. Those who invented it stated that there was a distinct Moldovan language, derived from Romanian but different from it. One general policy result of this situation in Moldova is confusion – the country has changed its foreign policy orientation several times after it won sovereignty with the collapse of the USSR.

Changing the name of the national language has never been attempted by popular referendum, though the issue was considered for the last one held in September 2010. Nevertheless, since the governing coalition of the time sought mainly to change the method of electing the president with that referendum, decided not to include the sensitive language issue too, as it would have reduced the chances for it to pass

Unification Ventures and Framework Agreement

Many Europeans (and many Romanians) are interested to know the opinion of the Moldovans themselves related to the idea of unification. Russia attacks Romania on a permanent basis regarding this issue, which is not being considered at the moment.

Before and after Moldova became independent, movements for the unification of the two states, supported both in Moldova and in Romania, gained ground; however, they were never strong enough and Russian influence also proved to be too much for this venture to succeed. Many Romanians are still wondering why Moldovans did not want unification with Romania at that time; however, many seem to have not understood the complexity of the problem.

Only some Romanians proved able to understand the fact that Moldovans felt themselves as a separate nation, even if many families had been separated in the interwar period, with some members remaining in Romania and others in the USSR.

A Border Treaty and Framework Agreement were negotiated for years between the two countries, and were very much discussed by Moldova’s former government, led by the Communist Party. The Border Treaty was signed in November 2010, while the latter has been abandoned for the time being. Some EU countries have criticized Romania slightly for not signing the Border Treaty with Moldova, stating that it was supposed to serve as a guarantor of Moldovan sovereignty.

Interestingly, the position of the EU here used to be motivated by the fact that it was interested in consolidating Moldova as a state. The Romanian minister of foreign affairs at that time, Teodor Baconschi, stated that by signing this treaty, Romania wanted to “discourage the obsessive allegations of some political circles in Moldova concerning an imaginary irredentist agenda of Romania,” meaning by this the Moldovan Communist Party.

In the case of the Framework Agreement, the main disputes were over the issue of common history and language, issues that were typical for the Communist government. Currently, the subject is no longer debated openly.

A de jure unification is not possible at this moment also because of economic disparities between the two countries. As said, there is not a strong will among Moldovans for unification, and the international community does not seem to support the venture. However, a de facto unification is possible, starting with a visa-free regime to the EU for Moldovans. This has to do with dual-citizenship legislation, which will be discussed later.

Educational and Economic Relations

Romania offers a large programme of scholarships for secondary, university and post-university education for those of Romanian ethnicity living outside Romanian borders. The larger number of these, of course, is offered to Moldovan nationals, who comprise the largest concentrated population of ethnic Romanians living outside the state borders. For young people in Moldova, this has provided an opportunity to study abroad, to gain exposure to a different educational system, and to enjoy scholarships that keep costs quite low. For the Romanian government, this is a significant investment- 5,000 scholarships are currently being offered, and this number will be doubled, President Băsescu has promised.

During the first visit to Bucharest of Moldovan President Nicolae Timofti, Băsescu promised to grant Moldova one million books, which seemed to be a nice symbolic gesture. The problem with this donation, however, was that instead of providing useful and modern literature/educational works, the Romanian government selected 10 basic titles (to be printed 100,000 times each), which was not the best investment.

The economic relationship between Romania and Moldova, traditionally well interconnected, is much better than during the period between April 2009 and the parliamentary elections of that summer. After the 2009 April riot in Chisinau, the Communist-led government undertook harsh measures to limit the traffic of people and goods between the two countries. This caused economic relations to sharply worsen, and the traffic of persons fell by more than 50%.

At present, the priorities of the two governments in the economic sphere are two energy projects: the interconnection of energy systems (the power line Falciu-Gotesti) and of the natural gas transportation systems in both Romania and Moldova (Iasi-Ungheni).

An interesting aspect of the last project (to be conducted by the Romanian state company S.N.T.G.N. TRANSGAZ SA Medias and the Moldovan private company Moldova Gaz) is that the main shareholder in the latter one is Gazprom (with 50% of shares) and Transistria, represented by the Committee for the Administration of Assets of Transistria (13.44%). The Moldovan government has only 35.33% shares.

Through these projects, Moldova and Romania intend to make their gas supply more secure, while Gazprom will be the main shareholder from the eastern part of the Prut River.

Citizenship Concerns

The topic of citizenship is probably the hottest issue for the EU countries concerning Romania and Moldova. These countries consider that 3.8 million Moldovans, once they get their Romanian citizenship, will leave for low-paid jobs in other European Union countries, and will thus affect the work markets in an already economically depressed Union. From 1990-2012 there were granted a few hundred thousand citizenships.

However, the situation may not be quite that disastrous. Many of those from Moldova who wanted to leave for Western Europe have left by now. Romanian citizenship is, in addition, an instrument of controlling how numerous such persons are. At least they are registered now, can cross the border legally, can legally return to their families and can benefit to a certain degree from social protection mechanisms. Besides, in Europe, in the majority of cases Moldovans do the ‘dirty work’ that locals do not want to do.

If the procedure of granting Romanian citizenship was simplified in a few stages and shortened to approximately one year, the problem now is with the procedures related to getting the civil status and identity documents. Whether intentionally complicated or not, the complexity of this process enacted by the Romanian authorities creates a favorable environment for corruption to flourish, involving criminal networks active in both countries. Even if the Romanian authorities changed the procedure out of an intention to reduce or avoid corruption, the current system is not functional: people have to wait for more than one year in order to transcribe a civil status certificate issued abroad for one issued by the Romanian authorities.

The Transnistrian Conflict

Although this hot topic is too complex to be analyzed in the current article, Transistria does play some role in Romanian-Moldovan relations. One reason is because Romania is at the NATO and EU border, while Transistria remains a frozen conflict. Unfortunately for Romania, Romania is not included in the negotiation process; instead, it is represented by the EU that has observer status only in the 5+2 negotiation format.

Looking at the events to follow, it should be noted that German Chancellor Angela Merkel will probably visit Chisinau sometime between the end of the summer and September. According to Bogdan Nedea, an analyst from the Center for Conflict Prevention and Early Warning, a Romanian think tank, it is debated that Germany will put pressure on Moldova to accept its federalization, even if this not be directly expressed.

Germany, in exchange, would support Moldova in its relations with the EU (probably related to the visa regime and other issues). In this particular context, with Germany acting as the leader of the EU, Romania does not have much de facto influence on how the EU is represented in solving the Transnistrian conflict.

Earlier this month Romanian website reported that Russia’s Special Representative for Transnistria and the Republic of Moldova, Dmitry Rogozin, published on his Twitter account that Russia will send a group of experts whose scope is to make a social-economic analysis of the self-proclaimed republic, and make recommendations regarding how Transistria could attract Russian investors. Rogozin was appointed after a new president was elected in December last year in Transistria, Evgeni Shevchuk, who seems to be less subordinated to Russia than was his predecessor.

Most recently, according to the Moldovan website, Moldovan PM Vlad Filat and Transnistrian President Shevchuk together visited Greece, where they also discussed regulating the relationship between Transnistria and Moldova. With new leadership in Tiraspol, hostile discourse from the recently-appointed Rogozin and pressure from the EU – preceded by a conference on the Transnistrian conflict in Germany in June, to be followed by Merkel’s upcoming visit to Chisinau right before a new planned round of negotiations over the Transnistrian conflict – it seems that the stakes have now been raised.

At the moment, Romania is so preoccupied with its own internal political squabbles that it could not be of much influence even if it had a more direct role; there’s the referendum to be held at the end of July, parliamentary elections in autumn, and possible presidential ones (depending on the outcome of the referendum), while many have complained that the minister of foreign affairs is not the best candidate for that position.

A clearer picture will surely emerge by the end of the year. The greatest risk for Moldova is that Germany will put pressure on it in exchange for vague promises. Another danger comes from the Russian side; right after being appointed, Rogozin threatened that if politicians in Chisinau consider themselves Romanians (by ethnicity), Moldova’s state integrity will suffer from that. In stating this, the Russian envoy implied not only Transnistria, but also other recognised autonomous regions of Moldova, such as Gagauzia.

Russian historiographers (and politicians) have typically supported the idea of two separate identities, languages and nations- Romanian and Moldovan. According to Bogdan Nedea, Russia feels threatened by Romania’s role in Moldova, and thus continues to play the ‘nationality card’ to highlight separation. If Romania sticks to more pragmatic and less emotive issues, avoiding nationalistic, linguistic and historical discourse it will also help to avoid getting engaged in these sorts of debates being supported by Russia.

Church Issues

In Moldova there are two Metropolitan Orthodox Churches: the Moldovan Orthodox Church, subordinate to the Moscow Patriarchate and supported by the Moldovan government, and the Bessarabian Metropolitan Church, which is subordinate to the Bucharest Patriarchate.

The latter accounts for 23% of Moldova’s Christian believers, according to an Infotag opinion poll conducted in 2000. Even though it won a lawsuit at CEDO, the Bessarabian Church still encounters problems with registration of churches, with processes often being blocked by officials. Additionally, it has encountered problems with getting its properties returned that had been confiscated by the Soviet regime.

Future Prospects

Romania’s current political crisis and autumn parliamentary elections mean, frankly speaking, that there will be no time for much activity on relations either with Moldova, or with other neighbouring countries.

The July 29 referendum will seek to confirm the governing coalition’s suspension of President Băsescu. Secondly, neither of the main political parties (the governing Liberal Social Union and the Băsescu-supporting, opposition Liberal Democratic Party) has prepared candidates for the presidential election, should it be required. Băsescu can only hope that the referendum will not pass. However, it will succeed if a simple majority of those included in the voting lists vote, and vote against him. If the referendum succeeds, new presidential elections should be organized within 90 days.

This would mean that Romania would have only an interim president during this precarious summer of economic troubles across Europe. In addition to the fact that Romania lacks a clear long-term strategy regarding its relations with Moldova, the current coalition will probably be less supportive in enforcing Romania’s relations with Moldova- even if the general national strategy views Moldova relations as being strategically important.


*Tatiana Drăguțan is an analyst of political affairs, international relations and macroeconomics. Originally from Moldova, she has lived for over 12 years in Romania. There, she has worked for the foreign diplomatic missions of Azerbaijan and Lithuania (in the latter case, as adviser to the ambassador and cultural affairs officer). A native speaker of Romanian, she is also proficient in Russian and English, with intermediate knowledge of French. Currently Tatiana is undertaking an Executive Master’s in Business Administration from Maastricht School of Management.

Tatiana also holds a bachelor’s degree in English and Romanian Philology from the University of Oradea, and several MA degrees, including one in English Applied Linguistics (from Bucharest University), one in International Relations: Conflict Analysis and Solving, and another in Public Policies and European Integration (both from the National School for Political and Administrative Studies).

Looking for More Publications?

Find articles in the Central And Eastern European Online Library (CEEOL)

Buy articles and e-books for Amazon Kindle