The European Commission has launched legal action against two EU member states in a bid to stamp out the sale of passports in exchange for cash.
The EU executive has started infringement procedures against Cyprus and Malta over their so-called ‘investor citizenship schemes’ which have been labelled as ‘Golden Passport’ scams.
The European Parliament has long demanded to end to the sale of visas and passports by Member States.
Speaking at a news conference in Brussels on Tuesday, a Commission spokesman said that granting nationality – and thereby EU citizenship – in exchange for a pre-determined payment or investment and without a genuine link with the country concerned, “is not compatible with EU principles.”
The spokesman said such schemes also, “undermine the integrity of the status of EU citizenship.”
The Cypriot and Maltese governments have been given two months to reply and if their responses are deemed satisfactory, the Commission may issue a “reasoned opinion”.
Investor citizenship schemes allow a person to acquire a new nationality based on payment or investment.
"The sale of passports is a blatant violation of EU law. Passports and visas are not a commodity. Whoever sells citizenships violates the duty of all EU member states to cooperate in a spirit of trust. Money should not be the criterion for citizenship and residence rights in the EU” Sven Giegold MEP
Investor residence schemes, often termed “Golden Visas” or “Golden Passports” allow third-country nationals to obtain a residence permit to live in an EU country.
The Commission’s move was welcomed by some MEPs who have highlighted the “scandal” of passports and visas being issued in exchange for investment.
MEPs at this week’s plenary session in Brussels will, on Thursday, debate what the Greens/EFA Group call the “serious security threats” posed by so-called “Golden Visa” schemes that sell residence permits and citizenship to non-EU citizens in exchange for money and investment.
This follows recent revelations from an Al Jazeera investigation into alleged links between high level Cypriot officials and passport sales.
A Greens/EFA spokesman said the group will call for “serious scrutiny and binding minimum standards to ensure that wealth is not the key for citizenship and residence rights in the EU.”
German Greens MEP Sven Giegold said such programmes “attract criminals and convicted offenders from around the world and promote money laundering.”
Giegold, the Greens/EFA’s financial and economic policy spokesperson, said the opening of infringement proceedings was “an important step against money laundering and corruption in Europe.”
He said it was, “high time that the Commission takes concrete measures against these violations of EU law. Our pressure is finally shaving an effect. Malta and Cyprus give shelter to criminals and the corrupt along with their wealth. This practice endangers internal security in Europe."
"The sale of passports is a blatant violation of EU law. Passports and visas are not a commodity. Whoever sells citizenships violates the duty of all EU member states to cooperate in a spirit of trust. Money should not be the criterion for citizenship and residence rights in the EU.”
The Commission has also written to Bulgaria to highlight its “concerns” regarding Sofia’s investor citizenship scheme.
Meanwhile, the Parliament’s Socialist Group will use this week’s plenary to call for an end to the current situation which requires citizens from Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania to have a visa to travel to the United States for short-stays. All other EU citizens and US citizens can travel visa-free.
Socialist member Juan Fernandon Lopez Aguilar said, “The EU does not single out any US citizens by denying visa rights so the same must apply to all EU citizens. We cannot tolerate a situation where a third country treats a small number of member states unfairly.
“We are calling on the Commission for the suspension of visa reciprocity with the United States.”