EU Passports for 650000 Euros: Malta’s Controversial Citizenship Scheme

Written by | Friday, February 7th, 2014

Can anyone guess what is the one desire that a Latin American footballer, a famous pop singer, and a prominent member of a Gulf royal family share? According to the media reports, it is that all three of them, and many other mostly high net-worth individuals, want Maltese citizenship. They are alleged beneficiaries of a controversial scheme that has put the small Mediterranean island in the centre of attention from all corners of the European Union and raised eyebrows in Brussels’ corridors of power. The policy, officially called the Individual Investor Programme, the brainchild of centre-left Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, has been designed to boost the Maltese government’s coffers by charging €650,000 in exchange for a passport and the right to live and work in Malta, and by extension anywhere in the European Union.
This controversial scheme has upset many politicians of all segments of the political spectrum – the general feelings were quite aptly summed up by Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the Liberal group in the European Parliament, who said during a debate: “I think it’s completely crazy, I don’t even understand how it can come into the mind of somebody.” Yet, it is indeed possible to ‘buy’ citizenship in several EU member states and one does not even need to be a ‘millionaire’ to be able to afford to acquire the EU passport. The Maltese case has two distinguishing factors: first, Malta has been more open and even brazen about its scheme; and, second, the lack of what the European Commission calls a “genuine link” to Malta.
While citizenship is a national competence, the Commission and others were mainly concerned about the fact that the original scheme could have led to the creation of new Maltese, and by extension EU, citizens who had barely set foot in the country. These concerns were addressed in a deal that was struck last week (29 January) between the Maltese government and the Commission. Most importantly, it provided for the introduction of a minimum residency requirement of 12 months, which will begin when the applicant buys or rents a property in Malta. This does not mean that applicants have to spend 365 days in Malta, but they have to spend there enough time to satisfy the Commission that they will could be considered as calling the island at least their ‘second home’. The Commission also agreed that the Maltese government could raise the current cap on the number of applicants, which had been set at 1,800. These changes have silenced some of the critics – at least for the time being, but the damage to Malta’s reputation may not be repaired for some time.

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