[WATCH] Karol Aquilina lambasts ‘cosmetic’ IIP changes, Alex Muscat dismisses Brussels attempt to control citizenship

Xtra on TVM | Karol Aquilina and Alex Muscat clash over golden passport scheme

Nationalist MP Karol Aquilina
Nationalist MP Karol Aquilina

Karol Aquilina is critical of changes to Malta’s golden passport scheme, which he claims have merely packaged the old programme under a different name.

The Nationalist MP said his party will never accept the selling of Maltese citizenship.

“The situation hasn’t changed. The amendments introduced have not changed the situation. The government will still be selling citizenship, just with a change in name,” he said on TVM’s Xtra.

The new programme was defended by Citizenship Parliamentary Secretary Alex Muscat, who said that while it still retained the same principles as the IIP, it took note of the criticism and complaints that the outgoing programme received.

Parliamentary Secretary Alex Muscat
Parliamentary Secretary Alex Muscat

“Our principles have been clear from day one – our country is open for international investment… We have introduced a new initiative, but the principle of attracting international investment, and then giving them residence, and eventually citizenship – rewarding and honouring them with citizenship – that principle is still there. Our way of arriving there has changed drastically though,” Muscat said.

One of the major changes will require applicants to first acquire residency status for three years before being eligible to apply for Maltese citizenship.

But Aquilina dismissed the new clause, claiming that just because a person has a place of residence does not mean that they are actually residing in Malta.

“Will those three years be three years of effective residency? Will the person be living in Malta, building a genuine link with Malta, or will they merely be pretending to live here? The answer is simple. These people will not be living in Malta,” Aquilina said.

Muscat rebutted the criticism, arguing that expecting potential applicants to spend the entirety of the three years living in Malta would go against the EU’s own concept of freedom of movement.

“A principal point that the EU is founded upon is that of freedom of movement. Do we take the citizenship of those Maltese citizens who are not living in Malta but are working abroad? Of course not,” he said.

The Parliamentary Secretary dismissed claims that certain citizenship applicants do not even set foot on Malta, claiming that all the applicants come here with some spending weeks or even months on the islands, and others even choosing to invest further in alternative areas.

Asked by presenter Saviour Balzan as to what compromise the Opposition would be willing to reach in order to support a citizenship programme, the Aquilina insisted the PN could never support the sale of citizenship in any form. 

“On principle, you should not put a price on citizenship. Citizenship is of inestimable value. Our country never used to sell citizenship before, we merely used to honour or recognise someone with a real link to Malta, and I don’t agree that citizenship should ever be sold,” he said.

However, Aquilina did state that there can be an agreeable compromise for both parties, calling on his counterpart to sit down and discuss the way forward with stakeholders from the industry and representatives from the Opposition.

“I invite my colleague to sit down at a table, with the involvement of people in the industry, and agree on a common position that would be agreeable to both of us and the European Commission so that we can safeguard this important industry for our country and the income derived from it, without putting us in a position of negative repute,” he said.  

Muscat, on his part, agreed with Aquilina’s sentiment that the European Commission and EU regulations should be respected, but insisted that the decision on who should be granted Maltese citizenship should remain a Maltese one, without any international interference. 

“I hope that there is agreement between us that the decision on who should get Maltese citizenship will remain a Maltese one, since there are those in Brussels who wish this was otherwise. It is a cardinal point that Maltese citizenship should remain a Maltese concern,” he said.