The Malta Independent 22 October 2020, Thursday

The gamble on your passport

Peter Agius Wednesday, 23 September 2020, 06:53 Last update: about 28 days ago

‘European Values are not for sale’ said the President of the European Commission von der Leyen in reference to Malta’s citizenship sales scheme.

Once again, Labour came out defending the scheme, emphasising that passport sales are subject to rigorous due diligence procedures. This week we learnt what that due diligence looked like – it allegedly included direct personal interest by the former chief of staff of the Prime Minister. This country is really taking service culture to a whole different level.

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By instinct, I do not like it when my country is singled out in European fora, and yet, in this particular case, von der Leyen may have all the right to point fingers at Castille, and we may have a lot to lose in not listening to her call.

First of all, we need to clean up the matter from all the misinformation pollution around it. That misinformation is not accidental. It is rather a pre-requisite element for otherwise unacceptable practices to continue thriving on our islands. The first in the list is the myth that the European Commission had approved Malta’s programme in 2014. Back then, Muscat returned from Brussels with fanfare staging a press conference telling us of Brussels’ approval. What the Government omitted then, as it tends to keep doing now, is that Brussels’ approval was subject to a verifiable period of residency on the islands, hence necessitating the publication of the names of new Maltese citizens. Brussels insisted already in 2014 on a ‘genuine link’. The Government consistently failed to convince that there is one.

Until 2014, the European Commission’s imperative of a genuine link was not clearly backed with legal sources. In a judgement handed down by the Court of Justice in Luxembourg in March this year however, the court ventured for the first time into a clear statement saying that European citizenship does in fact depend on a genuine link with a European territory. 

That ‘genuine link’ may be rendered a mere detail by the super one propaganda machinery, but it remains a fundamental element for security services all across the Schengen area. Oh yes, for contrary to the other pillar of labour propaganda, the Germans, Italians and another twenty EU countries in the Schengen area have a problem with Malta’s passport sales, not because we are raking in a few millions in the fees. No problem with that. The problem is that the citizenship sales to unknown third country nationals bypasses all the security barriers that make free movement in the EU possible.

The Schengen system puts all Member States in one security loop. Member States in Schengen eliminate all identity checks at the internal borders resting on rigorous controls of third country nationals at the external border. All information on entry of third country nationals in Malta’s airport is, for instance, instantly made known to authorities from Berlin to Barcelona. The identity and background of every third country national on European soil is therefore well known for all intents and purposes. This element has been reinforced in the past years though advanced cooperation mechanisms fuelled by millions of investments in technology and training in all Schengen entry zones.

By the mere fact of Malta’s hiding the identity of new EU nationals to the Schengen countries, Malta is becoming the weakest link of the whole Schengen system. In this we are alone, for while Politico and Bild journals put Cyprus together with Malta on the grill, Cyprus is not in Schengen. It’s citizenship scheme, while still objectionable in my view, is thereof less of an issue security wise.

As a proud Maltese, I would say that the Government’s cheap sale of Maltese citizenship offends me as being Maltese should not be a commodity. That offence is clear to all now. A lot seem to have been able to live with it somehow. Legally and illegally, some have learnt to capitalise on it. But, no matter where you stand on that range of positions on passports to Russians, Chinese and what have you, you will want to protect your own passport. So what if our own passport is less useful as a result of the sale to others?

The prospect of a downgrade in Maltese Schengen access and the reintroduction of passport checks is not as far-fetched as it might seem. When Malta joined Schengen in 2007, it was subject to a series of criteria which essentially demonstrate all the will and the capacity to be a trusted external border of the EU. In 2007, we earned a living without having to sell our identity. Would Malta qualify for Schengen now with all that is going on regarding the IIP allegations? I can think of at least two cases where EU countries are being refused Schengen membership for arguably less than that.

So, while Keith Schembri and Brian Tonna allegedly bask in the commissions from the sale of our most precious commodity, you and me now face the prospect of a downgrade to our rights as EU citizens. It has now come to that across the board, downgrades on financial standing, on environmental performance and now on free movement on the horizon. All that this country struggled to achieve before 2013 is under threat from the greed and short-sightedness of the few that will now compromise anything for their self-enrichment. We need to rise up against this before it is too late to come back.

Peter Agius, MEP candidate and EU expert

[email protected]

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