The Malta Independent 16 May 2022, Monday

Discussions with EC over citizenship scheme infringement proceedings still ongoing

Giuseppe Attard Tuesday, 30 November 2021, 16:37 Last update: about 7 months ago

Discussions with the European Commission regarding infringement proceedings against Malta over the sale of its citizenship are still ongoing, Parliamentary Secretary Alex Muscat said.

Muscat called for a balanced way forward which satisfies both the European Commission and the interests of the Maltese government.

Last year, Malta phased out the controversial IIP scheme and replaced it with a new scheme which the government says focuses more on residency and can lead to citizenship. But the European Commission launched infringement proceedings against the schemes operated by Malta and Cyprus. It stepped up the proceedings against Malta in June of this year.

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Muscat said that since the last communication between the government and the European Commission in December of last year, there were no other warnings given to Malta, but discussions are constantly ongoing.

Malta started its cash for passport scheme back in 2014 and since then the government has raked in more than a billion euros from it. Malta is not the only country that started this scheme. The European Union was prompted to kick off legal action against both Malta and Cyprus.

Cyprus has since stopped accepting applications for their scheme while Malta established a new, different scheme which started at the end of 2020, when the old one ended.

The problems highlighted by the European Commission were as the Maltese passport grants the individual a European citizenship which includes visa free travel, working and residency rights throughout the 27 member states of the European Union.

In response to the first warning sent by the European Commission, Malta stated firmly that the sale of citizenship should be left up to the individual countries and not monitored by the European Union.

Muscat believes that the cash for passport scheme was beneficial for Malta. "Our wish as a government is that this (current) scheme remains. We have to find the middle road and also find balance between the needs of Malta and the recommendations of the European Commission in order to find a solution which is comfortable for everyone."

Concerns over the Malta passport sale scheme were not only highlighted by the European Commission. Anti-corruption agency Transparency International also expressed its concern since "golden passport schemes have always resulted in corruption."

Transparency International's expert on corrupt money flows Maira Martini said: "We are pleased to see that the European Commission remains firm and intends to ban the sale of citizenship in the EU, following years of corrupt abuse of golden visas and passport schemes."

Malta's passport scheme included a clause that individuals who were granted Maltese citizenship had to go through a 12 month residency requirement. In 2018, Transparency International exposed a loophole in the scheme which allowed applicants of a Maltese citizenship to bypass this requirement.

"Loopholes in Member States' golden visa and passport schemes have essentially served as a backdoor for the corrupt and their money into the EU. Cosmetic changes haven't helped solve the problem, and abuse has continued," Martini said.

As a final appeal, Transparency International urged the European Union to phase out passport schemes completely "in order to prevent risky individuals from shopping for EU passports and visas between jurisdictions."

Muscat was attending the launch of a calendar made in collaboration between Identity Malta and National Archives.

As part of an initiative called Memorji (memories), Identity Malta has collaborated with the National Archives in order to commemorate 100 years of passports issued by Malta. The calendar is only part of the initiative and more events in collaboration with various ministries are expected to be announced.

A spokesperson for the National Archives said that "the 100 year old passports are not only prestigious documents worth archiving, but they are a picture into the lives of the Maltese people years ago."

Through the passports, travel patterns could be observed. Archive expert Dr. Charles Farrugia said: "We can clearly see an inclination of immigration towards America when there was the motor industry boom. People were emigrating to America for work and this can clearly be seen through their passport applications."

Muscat then closed off the press conference focusing on the security measures Malta has taken throughout the years. "From a passport being a single piece of paper easily forged, Malta now has one of the most secure passports in the EU. This is important when taking into consideration that more than 45,000 passport applications are received by Identity Malta every year."


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