Malta sells Citizenships

Some buy doctorates in Poland, others opt for a Maltese passport: in many EU countries, non-EU nationals can acquire citizenship.

What is the best way to refresh a ruined treasure? At the end of summer 2013, an idea came to the Maltese Social Democrats. In order to improve incomes and attract more rich people, Joseph Muscat, Prime Minister and leader of the Maltese Labour Party, passed a controversial law. The government wants to create a new source of income by selling Maltese citizens.

By a narrow majority, Parliament approved the regulation in November. Since then, a non-EU citizen can obtain a Maltese passport for 650,000 euros, women and children pay 25,000 euros. For the first year, the government expects to generate revenue of €30 million. Henley & Partners, a private consulting firm that reviews applications and acquires real estate, announces on its website the investment for “île du Soleil” at a reduced tax rate. Prime Minister Muscat explicitly expects people of “high quality”, that is, people who are as rich as possible. The cloud for the new Maltese: They don’t even need to live in Malta.

But the new Maltese practice is a problem, both on the Mediterranean island and in the European Parliament. The opposition to Valletta welcomed the fact that Malta was turning into a tax haven. A broad front has also been formed in Brussels and Strasbourg. Manfred Weber, CSU politician, said the passport for the Schengen area should not be sold. CDU MEP Elmar Brok complained to the FAZ: “Malta’s socialist government is dedicated to modern human trafficking. It’s pathetic and perverse.” The Social Democrats, Leftists and Greens are also against the sale of passports.

Brok demands: Where there is a legal gap, citizens’ trade should be prohibited. But it’s not that simple. The EU’s management is very limited. “Member States have full sovereignty to decide how and to whom they grant their nationality,” said Michele Cercone, Commission spokesperson. “The principles of international law provide that each member country may determine for itself the conditions for acquiring its citizenship.

Parliamentarians call for uniform rules

Although the clear majority of political groups largely agree in their rejection, they cannot ban the sale of passports at this time. Today, the Strasbourg parliamentarians are voting in favour of a resolution. However, as a motion for a resolution, this is only an invitation. The agents want to send a signal and exert pressure. The European Commission should establish common rules for granting citizenship and examine whether the Maltese government’s law violates European treaties.

In fact, in other EU countries, there are similar rules to those in Malta: foreigners who invest more than 250,000 euros in Hungary receive Hungarian passports. Anyone who buys a property in Greece for at least 250,000 euros obtains a residence permit for himself and his family for five years. In Cyprus, the property must have a minimum value of 300,000 euros. In Austria too, a single investment is enough in return.

The citizenship of one of the member countries is attractive. It paves the way for the free movement of non-EU foreigners, for example from Russia or Turkey, within the European Union, for participation in elections and for the application of the principle of free movement. But there are also restrictions for EU citizens. To be able to stay in an EU country for more than three months, they must be working or able to support themselves. Those who bought a passport in Malta for 650,000 euros should not find it so difficult.

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