The European Parliament has overwhelmingly approved a legislative initiative report calling on the Commission to ban golden passports, as the citizenship-by-investment schemes are commonly known.
595 MEPs from across the political spectrum supported the report, with only 12 votes against, four of whom came from the Maltese MEPs representing the Labour Party.
Parliament stressed that ‘citizenship by investment’ (CBI) schemes, under which third country nationals obtain citizenship rights in exchange for a sum of money, undermine the essence of EU citizenship.
In the report, MEPs describe the practice -in place in Malta, Bulgaria and Cyprus- as “free riding”, as member states sell what was never intended to become a commodity. Applications have been accepted even when requirements were not met, MEPs say, and demand that these schemes be phased out due to the risks they pose.
Noting the less severe risks posed by ‘residence by investment’ (RBI) schemes, Parliament also asked for EU rules to help tackle money laundering, corruption, and tax evasion, including stringent background checks (also on applicants’ family members and on sources of funds), mandatory checks against EU databases, and vetting procedures in third countries; reporting obligations for member states, including a “notification and consultation” scheme to allow other member states to object; and requirements for minimum physical residence (for applicants) and active involvement, quality, added value, and contribution to the economy (for their investments).
The EP welcomed the commitment by the relevant member states to limit the sale of citizenship to Russians with ties to the Russian government, and calls for all citizenship and residency schemes in the EU to exclude Russian applicants with immediate effect. MEPs urged EU governments to reassess all approved applications from the past few years and ensure that “no Russian individual with financial, business or other links to the Putin regime retains his or her citizenship and residency rights”.
Prime Minister Robert Abela initially resisted calls to halt sales to applicants from Russia and its ally Belarus following the invasion of Ukraine, saying the programme had raised hundreds of millions of euros and enabled Malta to give generous assistance to businesses during the COVID-19 crisis.
But on Wednesday, the agency responsible for processing requests said the scheme was suspended for Russians and Belarusians because “recent developments” meant the necessary checks on prospective buyers could not be done.
The scheme allows wealthy foreigners to get citizenship in exchange for an investment of around 1 million euros ($1.1 million) with Maltese passports granting holders full access to the European Union. Russians have accounted for well over a quarter of all those who have bought citizenship.
CDE News – Strasbourg, with additional reporting from Reuters