The Malta Independent 18 July 2024, Thursday
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Golden passports: It’s unethical, risks security of the whole EU and it should stop – MEP

Kevin Schembri Orland Sunday, 1 October 2023, 09:00 Last update: about 11 months ago

Selling citizenship is “unethical, it risks the security of the whole of the EU and it should stop,” a member of the European Parliament (MEP) coming from the EPP Party told The Malta Independent on Sunday.

Two members of the European Union Parliament stressed the need for Malta to stop selling citizenship in interviews with this newsroom.

Jeroen Lenaers from the EPP party, who sits on the EU Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, as well as Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield from the Greens party, who had formed part of a rule of law delegation to Malta, were asked questions on the sale of citizenship.

Following an amendment to the Maltese Citizenship Act in November 2013, Malta introduced its first investor citizenship programme in 2014. The 2014 Scheme was subsequently replaced in 2020 by the ‘Maltese Citizenship by Naturalisation for Exceptional Services by Direct Investment’ programme’.

The Maltese government, when defending Malta’s citizenship by investment programmes, has argued that citizenship is a national competence of individual member states.

EPP MEP Lenaers said he does not agree with this rhetoric, insisting that those who receive such citizenship or passports are not only restricted to Malta. “You get a European passport, European citizenship through Maltese citizenship. So that makes it a problem for the EU. If the Maltese authorities decided to sell all these passports and citizenships to Russian oligarchs and God knows who else, they get free European citizenship as a result." 

Citizenship and passports aren't a commodity. They’re not an instrument to enrich yourself as a government. It is unethical, it is risking the security of the whole of the EU and it should stop."

The European Commission has taken Malta to the European Court of Justice over its sale of citizenship. The current programme, according to the Community Malta Agency, which is the state-run entity that handles matters related to Maltese citizenship, requires main applicants to provide proof of residence in Malta for a period of 36 months, which could be reduced to a minimum of 12 months by exception, subject to a direct investment of €600,000 and €750,000 respectively, to be effected prior the issue of the certificate of naturalisation. There are other requirements, such as the purchase an immovable residential property in Malta having a minimum value of €700,000 or a lease on a residential immovable property for a minimum annual rent of €16,000, among other things.

Malta had suspended citizenship applications for Russian and Belarusian nationals in March 2022 after the war started in Ukraine, saying that the existent due diligence checks cannot be carried out effectively in the current scenario.

Asked about the case against Malta over the sale of citizenship before the Court of Justice of the EU, MEP Lenaers hopes it is handled quickly. "The longer this situation exists, the more problematic it is." He remembers that back in 2014 or 2015, "we were already complaining about this (...) and not much has changed. It is really also the European Commission's job to put an end to these kinds of schemes that put European citizenship up for sale."

Greens MEP Delbos-Corfield said that the EU Parliament has reiterated a number of times that “we don't agree with the fact that Malta still has the Golden Visa system. Malta is today probably the only one doing it, and maintains that it has the right to. In this parliament we have taken numerous positions, with a majority," to say it doesn't.

Sharing her thoughts on the issue of Golden Visas following her visit to Malta as part of an EU Parliament delegation to Malta in 2022, she said she was not satisfied with what she heard. She said a lot of the information they had gotten was that Malta has made huge progress on monitoring, “so at least it seems that the worst is not there, but there is no questioning of the system, which is not our position. We do think that it is not normal that you can buy a citizenship for Malta, which gives you European citizenship. And on this we are not budging. Malta is saying that it will go on doing it, and that they are checking, a bit better, who the people doing it, are." She said she was not satisfied with that. 

Asked about the Maltese government saying that citizenship is a local issue, she said: "The day Malta joined the EU, it received EU citizenship, and EU citizenship has a number of advantages that local Maltese citizenship doesn't have. When you join the EU you have duties that go with it."

“If you want to welcome dangerous people, people having committed bad things, or Russian oligarchs... ok if this is the will of the Maltese people... But the problem is that the minute they get Maltese citizenship, they get EU citizenship with it, and then can go everywhere in EU."

 

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