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A rubbish economy: Moldova is Europe’s poorest nation

The fact that nearly 30 million Bulgarians and Romanians will have full rights to settle, work and claim benefits in Britain from January 1, 2014 has become a hot political issue. What has been much less noted is that soon most residents of Moldova, Europe’s poorest country and not an EU member or likely to be for very many years, will also be able to move to the UK.

Moldova, bordering Romania to its west and Ukraine to its east, was a constituent part of the Soviet Union and emerged as an independent state after its collapse in 1991. Throughout the 20th century the largest population group within what is now Moldova has been Romanian, but political control of its territory has repeatedly shifted. It was part of the Russian empire, as the province of Bessarabia, until the First World War. Between the wars it was integrated into Romania. Under the Nazi-Soviet pact Bessarabia was handed to the Soviet Union. Stalin carved a Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic out of most of the territory he had seized — the rest was given to Ukraine — and added to it a thin sliver of Ukrainian land east of the Dniestr river.

Since independence Moldova has not prospered; indeed it has not even managed to keep control of all of its territory. The sliver east of the Dniestr, while still legally part of Moldova, has broken away as Transnistra, a de facto independent state propped up by the Russian army. It is the last place in Europe where statues of Lenin still hold pride of place in public squares.

Economically Moldova is a basket case — in nominal terms its GDP per capita of under $2,000 is less than a quarter of that of Romania, which in turn is less than a quarter of that of the UK. It ranks immediately below Bhutan and just above Sudan. Moving to Britain must be an attractive prospect to many of the 3.5 million or so Moldovans.

Romania permits any Moldovan who has at least one Romanian great-grandparent — in practice the vast majority — to acquire a Romanian passport and dual citizenship. They thus gain, from next January, free entry to any EU state.

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