The Malta Independent 2 June 2023, Friday
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Golden passports are ‘not consistent with EU values’ – LIBE chairperson

Semira Abbas Shalan Sunday, 26 March 2023, 08:30 Last update: about 3 months ago

Semira Abbas Shalan reporting from Strasbourg

Spanish MEP and the chairperson of the European Parliament's Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) Juan López Aguilar said that golden passports and visas are not consistent with European Union values.

Interviewed at Strasbourg’s European Parliament, during a week’s plenary session where MEPs discussed and voted on several major files concerning the EU, López Aguilar said that however it is also unfair to say that Malta has a systemic breach or violation on the rule of law.


Malta’s golden passports scheme has come under heavy criticism by the European Union ever since it was introduced under the Joseph Muscat government. Last year the EU also took Malta before the European Court of Justice, arguing that granting EU citizenship in return for pre-determined payments or investments without a genuine link to the member state is not compatible with European principles. The case is ongoing.

López Aguilar said that throughout the recession many countries adopted programmes which sell EU citizenship to residents, otherwise known as the Golden Passport scheme, in order to make money out of it.

He said that while it may have been a tactic, it is not sustainable, and is not consistent with EU values.

López Aguilar added that the European Parliament has voted to repeal these programmes of golden visas and golden passports, as there should be no privileged access for a person with no meaningful link to a member state of the European Union, only for the sake of buying property or investing money.

“That money invested may all too often cover up money laundering of illicit origin and we should care about that. We should come to a common European standard to preserve the distinctive idea of rule of law and the European citizenship,” he said.

The LIBE Committee has visited Malta on many delegations on the rule of law. Last year, the delegation determined that Malta’s “excruciatingly slow” justice system continues to impact the quality and efficiency of the way justice is brought about.

Asked if Malta’s progress was satisfactory, López Aguilar said that a permanent and regular framework which deals with the rule of law, fundamental rights and democracy, is there to examine all the 27 member states and “not only the so-called usual suspects”, referring to the self-proclaimed liberal regimes of Hungary and Poland.

He said that it is unfair to say that Malta specifically, has a systemic breach or violation of rule of law.

“Malta has seen situations we should care about particularly, such as the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, which we have discussed thoroughly. It goes without saying, however, that all member states show some particular issue the LIBE Committee has to care about,” López Aguilar said.

He added that there have been problems with the rule of law in Spain, Denmark, the Netherlands and others, not just Malta.

“We should mind about these situations, but we should be able to tell the difference between a systemic breach, and particular individual problems which we should discuss contractively. That is the case for Malta,” López Aguilar said.

Malta was placed on the Financial Action Task Force (FATF)’s grey list, the global money laundering watchdog. Despite coming off it after a year, López Aguilar was asked if Malta has done enough to satisfy the EU Parliament in terms of its actions against money laundering and prevention of financial crime.

“Malta is not the only member state, which has shown that kind of liability,” he said.

What is the EU doing to ensure that the rule of law in certain countries, such as Hungary and Poland, is being adhered to? Both countries have been found in serious breach of their rule of law.

López Aguilar said that the Parliament has done everything it could, from putting into place the rule of law, fundamental rights and democracy framework, to suspending certain rights of the countries concerned.

The Parliament has also asked time and time again for the Council to state the case of clear risk of serious breach, and it has also asked the EU Commission to impose infringement procedures on both countries, for violations of the rulings issues by the European Court of Justice and EU law.

“We put in place the rule of law conditionality mechanism which is a piece of legislation to prevent countries in gross violation of EU values, and the rulings of the European Court of Justice, to prevent access to EU funds,” he said.

López Aguilar added that the Parliament has succeeded in preventing Hungary from having access to EU funds as it has not shown any political will to comply with EU law.

“Democracy is not only having a majority in Parliament, it is also respecting minorities, pluralism and respecting those who oppose and criticise your government,” López Aguilar said.

Following the recent incident where a migrant boat shipwrecked off the coast of southern Italy, which saw the deaths of at least 87 people, López Aguilar was asked about the seemingly lack of solidarity coming from countries who are not in the Mediterranean region on the issue of migration.

Can the EU come together with a mandatory relocation mechanism where each country pitches in?

“The tragedy was simply appalling. We have done everything in our hands at the EU Parliament to prevent these situations from happening, but it keeps happening time and time again, precisely because of a lack of an actual European Framework for search and rescue and a lack of effective solidarity,” López Aguilar said.

He said that the Treaty of Lisbon, which came into force some 13 years ago, along with the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which offers the right to asylum, the management of EU external borders and the Migration Asylum Policy are all based on two principles: shared responsibility and effective solidarity.

“There has to be binding solidarity if needed, meaning that solidarity cannot be simple wishful thinking, but filled with substance. Lessons are to be learnt out of every situation, but particularly when they have a death toll, which is absolutely unacceptable for any member state or the EU overall,” he said.

López Aguilar said that there is an investigation being led by the Italian public prosecutor on the case, in order to clear out responsibilities, “and there might be responsibilities”, he emphasised.

He said that the EU border control agency, Frontex, had reportedly warned Italian authorities that a migrant boat was approaching the shore, but Italian authorities failed to respond and do what they had to do, “which is precisely to save lives, and make sure those lives were not endangered or taken by the sea”.

“We can only hope that finally, we will put in place an effective stable solution which will prevent that from happening again,” López Aguilar said.

López Aguilar was asked on Europe working with Libya on the issue of migration, with questions raised as to migrants’ safety in Libya.

“It is a matter of dismay for the European Parliament that the EU keeps somehow doing business with Libya and the Libyan coastguard, as they corrupt and fail to comply with fundamental rights which are at stake,” he said.

López Aguilar added that the EU’s mandate and system is one which makes sense and is consistent with EU values and laws, being European in its nature.

“The system is not handled by third actors, particularly when they happen to be failed states, as, regrettably happens to be the case for Libya,” he said.

López Aguilar said that migration has an external dimension, and an internal impact, and Europe needs to be willing to cooperate with these countries, of which many migrants originate from.

He said that it is important to give opportunities and cooperate primarily to make sure that those who are on the move, referring to migrants, are not risking their lives for the sake of nothing.

López Aguilar said that these migrants, who could also have been the subjects of illicit human trafficking, exploitation and massive violations of their human rights, need to be treated with dignity and full respect to their fundamental rights once they are in the European Union.

“The Charter of Fundamental Rights protects not only European citizens, but all persons of which EU law is applicable, including migrants and asylum seekers,” he said.

Following Russia’s invasion in Ukraine, millions of Ukrainians were displaced, with around 12 million migrating to countries in the EU. The EU has activated a mechanism named the Temporary Protection Directive, which allowed for Ukrainian migrants to enter EU territory Visa-free, finding free movement within the EU, free residences, free access to the job market and social services.

The Temporary Protection Directive has existed for around 20 years, yet it was never activated until Ukraine’s crisis.

The EU had failed to activate the directive during the refugee crisis in Syria in 2015, when 1.3 million migrants from Syria came to Europe to request asylum, the most in a single year since World War II.

Asked about this and its impact on the migration legislations the EU is trying to implement at present day, López Aguilar said that the mechanism’s only criticism is that it should have been implemented much before, and to a larger extent.

“The Parliament asked for the directive to be implemented during the refugee crisis, as well as when the Taliban made it back into power, which meant oppression for many, particularly women. We asked for it, of course, when Russian President Vladimir Putin started his aggression on Ukraine,” López Aguilar said, adding that for the first time ever, the EU Council finally made up its mind, and made a decision.

He said that around four million Ukrainians are protected under the Temporary Protection Directive, emphasising that the directive should be there to stay.

López Aguilar said that the EU Commission had proposed the Migration Asylum Pact to initially repeal the Temporary Protection Directive, and substitute it with a new crisis regulation, of which López Aguilar is rapporteur.

“I have come to the compromise that this Crisis Regulation, which entails solidarity in action when needed for those countries who are overwhelmed by certain rescue operations in masses and unexpected influx of irregular migrants from external borders, should, in fact, coexist with the Temporary Protection Directive,” he said.

López Aguilar said that Syrians, Afghans and people fleeing from war zones should be given the same kind of respect which was shown to Ukrainians.

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