EU launches infringement procedures against Malta and Cyrpus over golden passports

The European Commission has initiated infringement procedures against Malta and Cyprus over their golden passport schemes

The European Commission is taking legal action against Malta over the infamous golden passports schemes, with an infringement procedure launched today.

Citing infringements against the treaties of the EU, the Commission said the scheme was incompatible with the principle of sincere cooperation while undermining the integrity of the status of EU citizenship.

"Due to the nature of EU citizenship, such schemes have implications for the Union as a whole. When a Member State awards nationality, the person concerned automatically becomes an EU citizen and enjoys all rights linked to this status, such as the right to move, reside and work freely within the EU, or the right to vote in municipal elections as well as elections to the European Parliament. As a consequence, the effects of investor citizenship schemes are neither limited to the Member States operating them, nor are they neutral with regard to other Member States and the EU as a whole," the statement read.

The Commission has so far issued a letter of formal notice regarding the citizenship-by-investment scheme. Malta will have two months to reply to the letter, after which if the replies are unsatisfactory a 'reasoned opinion' will be issued by the Commission. 

Regarding Cyrpus, a recently published investigation by Al Jazeera based on leaked documents revealed 2,500 people, including convicted criminals, paid to become citizens of Cyprus.

PM blames Nationalists for legal action

Yesterday the Prime Minister claimed that this legal action was being taken due to attacks by the Nationalist Party MEPs over the sale of passports, and that one could thank the MEPs for failing to defend Malta at EU level. 

In reaction to this, Roberta Metsola said that the PM is "totally out of his depth,"  while David Casa dubbed it "absolutely pathetic" that the Prime Minister would blame Opposition MEPs over the Commission's verdict.

This is not the first time that the Commission sounded the alarm bells over the investor citizenship schemes. A Commission report published in January 2019 highlighted the risks towards security, money laundering and tax evasion brought on by the schemes.

Last July, the European Parliament adopted a resolution reiterating calls for member states to phase out any citizenship or residency by investment schemes. 

Malta scrapped its original Individual Investor Programme to make way for a residency and visa programme. Under the new programme, individuals must first obtain a Maltese residence permit before applying for citizenship.

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