The Malta Independent 4 December 2020, Friday

Malta to tell European Commission it won’t cede citizenship rights, has addressed IIP concerns

Neil Camilleri Thursday, 19 November 2020, 16:34 Last update: about 14 days ago

The government will tell the European Commission that it will not give up its rights on the granting of citizenship, but also that concerns about the IIP have been addressed, Parliamentary Secretary Alex Muscat said.

It was recently reported that the EC had initiated legal proceedings against Malta and Cyprus over their ‘golden visa’ schemes.

Addressing a press briefing on Thursday, Muscat did not exclude that Malta can be taken before the European Court of Justice over its citizenship programme. He said, however, that any decision against such schemes would impinge on the right of all Member States to grant citizenship.

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He said that Malta’s new scheme is the most regulated one in the EU, yet it is often singled out. The EC’s concerns, which he believes are mostly political in nature, are mainly aimed at the IIP, which has been phased out, he said.

Whether the case goes to the ECJ depends heavily on the pressure placed on the Commission, he continued, adding that the country must put up a united front on this issue.

The last applications as part of the controversial IIP – which generated €1.5 billion over the past six years - were received in August and the agency that ran the programme is winding down.

The rules on the new scheme, which places greater emphasis on residency, will be published on Friday.

The new scheme is capped at 1,500 applications.

The government says the new regulations are a great improvement over the IIP.  Applicants will be obliged to go through an in-depth due diligence exercise before they are eligible to apply for Maltese citizenship.

The new regulations also limit the number of agents and bans “aggressive” advertising, and also remove the minister’s power to grant citizenship to individuals who do not meet the required criteria.

The names of all individuals who obtain citizenship in this way will continue being published, although there will be no distinction between these applicants and others who obtain citizenship through other ways, like marriage.

The government will also start publishing the names of individuals who have their citizenship revoked.

The Agency will have an obligation to keep monitoring applicants for the first five years after they are granted citizenship.

The clause which enabled the minister to grant citizenship to individuals who do not meet the basic legal criteria will be removed. Muscat added, however, that this discretion was never used in the case of the IIP.

Asked on the EC ‘action’, Muscat said this was actually a formal notice by the EC that it is against the principle of citizenship by investment. The government is, however, prepared for the eventuality that Malta is taken to court.

He said the new rules incorporate many of the suggestions made by the Commission over past months, including that applicants can no longer apply for Maltese citizenship immediately after obtaining legal resident status in Malta.

They will only be allowed to apply after holding a legal resident status for three years, and if investing a higher amount, after one year.

The government is currently drafting its reply to the EC, Muscat said. “We have always argued that this is an issue of national competence and will keep doing so. We will not give up this right. But we will also be telling the EC that real concerns that have been flagged are being addressed and we are showing goodwill by publishing the new regulations.”

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