Updated | Labour MEPs are lone voice in defending sale of citizenship to rich foreigners

All MEPs speaking in a European Parliament debate on the sale of citizenship to wealthy foreigners have called for the closure of golden visa programmes bar Alfred Sant and Miriam Dalli • Debate was suspended for a while after fire alarm went off

Labour MEP Alfred Sant
Labour MEP Alfred Sant

Updated at 5.18pm with Miriam Dalli's intervention and Commission conclusion

Alfred Sant delivered a passionate defence of golden visa schemes, which he described as “legitimate tools of policy” for economies on the periphery of the EU.

But the former Maltese prime minister and fellow Labour MEP Miriam Dalli stood out as a lone voice in the European Parliament as MEPs called for these citizenship programmes to be shut down.

Sant described some of the reactions as “hysterical claims by some whiter than snow”, insisting it was unfair that countries like Malta and Cyprus are targeted, simply because they advertise their schemes.

The Labour MEP said other countries had informal schemes but these were rarely criticised.

Sant said Malta’s due diligence process was “extremely rigorous” but acknowledged that mistakes could be made.

He urged fellow MEPs to identify cases of abuse and come forward with them rather than make blanket statements on money laundering. 

Sant argued for transparency in all golden visa schemes.

The European Parliament is generally opposed to the sale of citizenship schemes such as Malta's Individual Investor Programme
The European Parliament is generally opposed to the sale of citizenship schemes such as Malta's Individual Investor Programme

But his strong defence for the cash-for-passport scheme stood in complete contrast with arguments made MEPs from across the political divide.

One after the other, MEPs equated golden visa programmes with corruption and money laundering. Others pointed out the irony of a Europe that was prepared to put up walls to stop people who wanted to come and work on the continent, while the red carpet was being laid out for rich “oligarchs”.

Dalli took to task those who argued against citizenship programmes because of the discrimination between rich and poor, insisting that only Malta and Ireland had lived up to their commitments on the relocation of migrants as agreed at EU level.

She insisted that Malta’s due diligence was a four-tier system, while that in other countries was opaque. “Standards linked to due diligence should be the same, across the board,” she added.

But MEPs were having none of this.

Green MEP Sven Geigold called on the European Council and the European Commission to come forward with clear proposals on how to tackle the problems caused by golden visas.

Socialist MEP Ana Gomes called for these programmes to be shut down, insisting that “the race to the bottom” has to end.

Nationalist MEP Roberta Metsola said the sale of EU citizenship was wrong because it “dilutes every European’s citizenship”.

She urged the Commission not to turn a blind eye. “Citizenship must imply a genuine link with a member State and these schemes do not,” Metsola argued.

MEP Frank Engel criticised the use of the word investment to justify citizenship programmes for the wealthy. “What investment are we talking about here? Is it the investment like Pilatus Bank that was created to serve Azeri interests.”

The session had to be interrupted for a while after a fire alarm went off and the building was evacuated.

European Commissioner Violeta Bulc said the commission was working on a study of citizenship and residence programmes in all member states.

However, she admitted that the commission’s remit on the matter of citizenship was limited.

She promised to share the European Parliament’s concerns on golden visa programmes with her colleagues in the Brussels executive.