Belgium, (Brussels Morning Newspaper) MEPs want to phase out “golden passports” in the EU, claiming they impinge on ethical standards and entail several serious security risks. During a plenary vote on the subject, the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs approved the draft text on 15 February by 61 votes in favour to 3 against, with 5 abstentions.
The use of “golden passports”, a variable practice depending on the member state, notoriously associated with countries such as Cyprus, Malta, Portugal, Spain and Italy, provided and in some instances still offers foreigners residence rights in exchange for a financial contribution — normally an investment in real estate plus a minimum financial commitment. Different
countries have or had different investment options, ranging from around
250,000 euro to millions.
“The Maltese government’s disregard for European values is even greater than feared. Basic European values have been sacrificed for quick profits in Malta. The new revelations are a low point in the scandal of the sale of European citizens’ rights”, MEP Sven Giegold (Greens) exclaimed after reports of Malta selling “golden passports” to investors with no genuine link to the country surfaced.
Parliamentarians maintained that such passports undermine the essence of EU citizenship and that they should be phased out.
“Being an EU citizen or resident is at the core of what the Union embodies: freedom and rights. Citizenship is a right, not a commodity to be bought and sold. Member states’ governments sell what is not theirs to sell, exploiting the reputation of the EU for profit. Their cynical business is putting our common security in danger”, MEP Sophia in ‘t Veld (Renew) asserted.
Phasing out investment schemes
During the debate, MEPs 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”.
The demand is for “a meaningful percentage” to be levied on the investments made. This would continue while the CBI scheme is being phased out, and should continue indefinitely in the case of “residence by investment” (RBI) schemes, commonly known as the so-called “golden visas” or “golden passports”.
The report further stresses that since the intermediaries for these schemes are neither transparent nor held accountable, there should be a ban on their involvement in CBIs and a “strict and binding regulation” applied for RBIs.
MEPs said they 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.
In an attempt to avoid money laundering, corruption, and tax evasion, MEPs asked for common EU rules to harmonise standards.
As part of this enforcement, MEPs want 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.
At the national level, the Parliament wants reporting obligations for member states, and requirements for minimum physical residence for applicants and active involvement, quality, added value, and contribution to the economy.
MEPs also envision a “notification and consultation” scheme to allow other member states to object to a “golden passport” being granted.
Previously, the watchdog Transparency International warned against government inaction on foreign bribery with “golden passports”.
MEPs will debate and vote on the report in the next plenary session, starting on 7 March. If endorsed by plenary, the European Commission will need to prepare a legislative proposal. If the EU executive objects it, it will need to properly justify its decision.