Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 February, 2022 at 9:21 am by Andre Camilleri
MEPs today voted for a ban on “golden passports” and “golden visas”, giving yet another blow to Malta on the international stage.
Malta is one of three EU states that offers the sale of passports (citizenship by investment) to citizens outside the EU, a scheme that has been under fire since its launch and which has hampered relations with the EU.
In spite of various admonitions from the EU, the Maltese government has always defended the scheme and refused to eliminate it.
The Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs approved the draft text on Tuesday with 61 votes for, 3 against, and 5 abstentions
In the approved text, MEPs have stressed that ‘citizenship by investment’ (CBI) schemes, under which third country nationals can get nationality rights in exchange for an investment, are “objectionable from an ethical, legal and economic point of view, and pose several serious security risks”. So-called ‘golden passports’ undermine the essence of EU citizenship and should be phased out, they insist.
The text calls for “a meaningful percentage” to be levied on the investments made, which would continue while the CBI is phased out, and indefinitely for ‘residence by investment’ (RBI) schemes, the so-called ‘golden visas’.
MEPs deplore the lack of comprehensive vetting procedures and that the current system allows for successive applications in different member states, relying on checks carried out by non-state actors.
Rules for ‘golden visas’
Noting the difference in the severity of the risks posed by ‘residence by investment’ schemes -that give foreigners residence rights in exchange for a financial contribution-, the draft report asks for common EU rules to harmonise standards and strengthen the fight against money laundering, corruption, and tax evasion. MEPs demand:
· stringent background checks (including on family members and on sources of funds), mandatory checks against EU justice and home affairs systems, and vetting procedures in third countries;
· reporting obligations for member states, and
· requirements for minimum physical residence (for applicants) and active involvement, quality, added value, and contribution to the economy (for their investments).
MEPs also envision a “notification and consultation” scheme to allow other member states to object to a ‘golden visa’ being granted.
Warning about the role of intermediaries
The report stresses that the intermediaries for these schemes are neither transparent nor held accountable, calling for a ban on their involvement in CBIs and a “strict and binding regulation” for RBIs. MEPs want to put a stop to marketing practices that use EU symbols or point to the benefits of EU citizenship, and ask for a sanctions framework.
The text also asks the Commission to put pressure on third countries that benefit from visa-free travel to the EU to abolish their CBI and reform their RBI schemes.