The Malta Independent 5 December 2020, Saturday

EP discussion on corruption through ‘Golden visa schemes’ cut short by fire-alarm

Helena Grech Wednesday, 30 May 2018, 16:50 Last update: about 4 years ago

A European Parliamentary discussion on corruption and crime through Golden visa schemes, such as Malta’s controversial citizenship by investment scheme, was cut short just twenty minutes before it was due to finish after a fire-alarm went off.

MEPs Roberta Metsola and Alfred Sant had however managed to deliver their speeches, while Miriam Dalli’s opportunity was put on hold due to the fire-alarm.

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The parliamentary debate stems from a resolution which calls on the Commission to reassess citizenship-by-investment schemes and ascertain whether this is opening the door to illegalities, posing unnecessary security risks and whether the practice is in line with the spirit of the EU and its principles.

The resolution details “concern that this way of obtaining citizenship in Malta, as well as any other national scheme that may involve the direct or indirect outright sale of EU citizenship, undermines the very concept of European citizenship”.

Representatives from the European Commission said they have been monitoring national visa programmes, which there are no less than 12 of, closely. It also said that come autumn, a comprehensive report drawn up by the Commission itself will be published.

MEPs against the practice said that the main issues are a lack of transparency and accountability. One MEP slammed national governments for failing to provide information on screenings of applicants on the basis of national sovereignty when successful candidates are effectively being granted the right to live, work and do business across all EU member states.

Malta introduced its cash-for-passport scheme in 2014 after Prime Minister Joseph Muscat was elected into power. The move was met with harsh criticism by Opposition supporters and sections of society who feel that something as sacred as citizenship should be awarded based on genuine links with a country and merit rather than the size of a person’s wallet.

MEPs, coming from the European People’s Party, the Socialists and Democrats, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats and the Greens party expressed concerns over the scheme as it strengthens the wealth gaps and promotes ideas that wealthy people should be given advantages over ordinary citizens.

MEP Roberta Metsola, who is affiliated with the Nationalist Party said:

“The citizens we represent are concerned about the lack of security on criminality and money laundering. They expect protection and reassurance. Today’s debate has an impact on all of this. We are not only discussing citizenship but matters which have bigger implications, we are discussing the way people access Europe by buying a passport. They do so not because of a genuine link with the country but based on wealth.

“We want people with genuine interest to invest to create jobs in all EU countries. It is not right to sell citizenship without any control. I come from a country which gives importance to locals who invest, we also gave importance to foreign investment. We value economic contribution in a genuine manner.

“We should never accept that European countries are used for dubious reasons such as money laundering and corruption.”

Labour Party MEP Alfred Sant, who is a former Prime Minister of Malta, slammed critics of the citizenship scheme calling out the EU for encouraging practices which siphon off investment from the EU’s periphery, which is where Malta lays, in favour of continental Europe.

He called out MEPs for their hypocrisy in criticising states like Malta and Cyprus which openly advertise their citizenship programmes when other countries take decisions and attract applicants behind closed doors.

“Some say it [citizenship programmes] is an abuse of EU citizenship and promotes criminality. Most states do it. The schemes lack rules, the decisions are informal and hidden. Nobody protests except to attacks Malta and Cyprus because of the openness in both countries’ advertising.”

He continued to say that he has personally asked to review the citizenship-by-investment screening process and is “impressed by its rigour”.

“Whatever one may think, for or against, they [citizenship programmes] constitute legitimate tools of policy under globalisation. Direct investment has been sucked from periphery states to the mainland.”

Shortly before MEP Miriam Dalli was due to speak, the session was cut short due to a fire-alarm going off.

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