The Malta Independent 15 October 2021, Friday

TMID Editorial - Selling passports: The impasse – and reputational damage – remains

Monday, 20 September 2021, 09:44 Last update: about 25 days ago

Last Thursday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was in Malta to give the green light for the country’s Covid-19 resilience and recovery package.

The package is one which was lauded by von der Leyen and the Commission, with the government using her remarks as a solid tick in their favour – so much so that a One journalist used one of her quotes when interviewing PN leader Bernard Grech on Sunday.

However, a remark which the government will no doubt be less pleased at was von der Leyen’s statement on Malta’s passport selling scheme.

“In our bilateral we have been discussing the subject of the golden passports and that it is of utmost importance to stop that procedure because we should not forget that the golden passports potentially enable the person to have access to 27 member states in the European Union,” von der Leyen said when answering questions from the press.

There was no reaction from the Prime Minister nor the government as a whole forthcoming until Parliamentary Secretary Alex Muscat, under whose remit the scheme falls, was questioned about it by the press – where he promptly snubbed any suggestion of interference by von der Leyen.

“We believe that issues of citizenship fall under the national competence. Every country can decide for itself on these issues,” Muscat said.

Malta ventured into the passport-selling business soon after Labour’s 2013 election victory, and controversy followed close behind.

Malta, we were told, would be different, and the scheme would come equipped with the most rigorous due diligence process possible. Time showed otherwise and the IIP had many failures, as highlighted by the recent Passport Papers investigation.

Many applicants were barely spending a day in Malta, and most of these millionaires were renting out dingy places in areas like Gzira and St Paul’s Bay, rather than buying expensive villas. The required ‘genuine link’ for some applicants went only as far as proving that they bought pastizzi from Serkin or a Red Bull from Havana.

The IIP has since been scrapped and replaced by a new one run by a state agency. The government says the new scheme it has put in place has “addressed all concerns” pertaining to the Henley-run scheme.

And yet, the European Commission remains less than enthused at the idea of the scheme being re-run, and has opened infringement proceedings against Malta as a result.

Malta has argued – as Muscat did – that citizenship is a matter of national competence.  That may be the case, but when the Maltese passport is also an EU passport, then one is granting access to 27 countries rather than just one.

More recently, and especially in reaction to the Passport Papers investigation, the government has argued that the scheme was essential in keeping the Maltese economy afloat and providing aid to workers during the pandemic – strong words considering the government has always denied suggestions that the Maltese economy would do just fine without the passport scheme.

Now, NSDF funds garnered from the scheme are being used to fund a number of social and environmental projects.  Without delving into the merits of these projects, one must question whether these projects are being used to justify the continued emphasis on keeping the passport scheme.

We have always stood against the concept of selling citizenship for money, and that will not change.  The very principle of citizenship should be tied to the principles and identity of the nation – not to how loose someone’s purse-strings are.

As there is seemingly an impasse between the government and Europe, the matter may go all the way to the highest European courts.

It’s high time the government realises that the reputational damage that is, and will continue to be, suffered from this scheme is just not worth it.

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