Ireland has witnessed exceptionally dynamic migration patterns over the years. The country transitioned from a nation with a long history of intense emigration, especially during times of economic hardship, to a hub of ‘brain gain’. In the 1950s, Ireland was faced with approximately half a million citizens leaving the Republic. With a population of less than three million, this meant that 16% of its people were seeking opportunities abroad. Most of them were young emigrants in search of better employment opportunities.
The next twenty years were marked by economic development and Ireland’s membership of the European Economic Community, which brought home an encouraging number of people. Still, due to the the rise of unemployment, a new wave of emigration took over Ireland in the 1980s. Similar to 1950s, most of those leaving were young, but much better educated.
A similar situation can now be witnessed on the opposite side of Europe. While there are notable differences, Ireland and Moldova share a history of foreign domination, agricultural traditions, military neutrality and substantial diasporas.
Gloomy forecast for Moldova’s population
Since independence 32 years ago, approximately one third of the population have left Moldova. People are leaving in search of better paid jobs, access to quality public services and more opportunities. According to a Friedrich Ebert Stiftung study analysing different aspects of young people’s lives in Moldova, the majority of them intend to move abroad in the near future. These alarming data point to depopulation trends which experts have labelled impossible to stop. With a war right next door and persistent threat of a military invasion, the population seems endemically pessimistic.
The prospect of becoming an EU member state seems far away for many, while the present is onerous. Most Moldovans support the European integration path and seem to abstractly understand the advantages. Yet, the hope of a better future and promise of a European Moldova are not enough to make them stay.
Ireland – the EU success story?
Fast forward to 2022, the Central Statistics Office of Ireland indicated that the country’s population stood at 5.10 million, registering an increase of 88,800 people over the year. Once closely associated with emigration, Ireland is now attracting a global pool of talent. While there are many reasons that brought the country here, EU membership played an essential role, bringing free movement for European citizens and attracting diversely skilled professionals from across the Union.
Due to business-friendly policies and being part of the EU single market, Ireland attracted many multinational corporations (MNCs) which established their European headquarters in the country. Ireland has access to European research and innovation programmes and funding which allows collaboration with other European research institutions, leading to an influx of researchers and scientists. While these trends stimulate economic growth and contributes to cultural vibrancy, the Irish brain gain is also about the reconnection of the Diaspora, bridging the gap between those who left and stayed.
Lessons to be learned
A reality check should shake Moldovan decision makers – while EU membership is attractive, relying on its symbolism is insufficient. Irish government invested massively to reverse decades of brain drain. Increased employment opportunities partly come as a result of relocation or extension of MNCs. However, they are attracted by a low corporate tax rate of 12.5% offered by Ireland, together with access to the European market. Moreover, Ireland has a strong educational system focusing on STEM subjects. This means that they have a highly educated and skilled workforce. It was observed that there is a pattern of families returning to Ireland when children are about to start school. This points to the fact that a good education system coupled with high employment can be a good motivation to return home.
What comes as no surprise is that these are not quick fixes to stop Moldovans from leaving right now, but rather long term solutions to welcome them home. Nevertheless, Moldova needs time, human and financial resources to make the country more attractive. It seems that for now, the country heavily relies on external aid and overworked, dedicated professionals. This is a fragile basis, but nevertheless it is an obvious kick-start of the promised European Moldova.
Not so surreal
Moldovan authorities are investing in digitalisation and working on facilitating the business and legal environment. The country has broad access to high-speed internet and 100% mobile network coverage. In 2022, the ICT sector registered the highest growth rate among all sectors of the economy. Considering all prerequisites and the example of Ireland, Moldova’s transition from an agriculture nation to one of the tech capitals of Central and Eastern Europe doesn’t sound like a naïve dream any more.
The developments that Ireland went through are a testament to the resilience of the nation and appeal of a country that has adapted to changing times. Ireland offers an inspiring lesson to Moldova, showcasing that in spite of difficulties and with support from its EU family, a nation can reinvent itself and become a place of hope for a brighter future.