Jānis Zelmenis

Maltese passport and life as an EU citizen for anyone with £546,000

26 March, 2014

Malta’s government has approved a controversial plan to attract “high value” people to the island by selling passports for €650,000 (£546,000).

The scheme is targeted at rich citizens from countries such as Russia and China and will allow them effectively to buy citizenship of the European Union, which Malta joined in 2004. It is expected to attract up to 300 people a year and is already understood to have had 45 potential applicants, raising the government €30 million in much-need revenues. But the Maltese opposition says that the process used to vet the applications lacks transparency, and is unhappy that the applicants’ identities will not publicly disclosed. Simon Busutil, the leader of the opposition Nationalist Party, has pledged to revoke the passports if his party is gets into power again. Mr Busuttil, who sits on a monitoring committee that has access to the applicants’ names, has also threatened to disclose their identities publicly, which could frighten off publicity-shy oligarchs. “As things stand, revealing the names is not illegal,” Mr Busutil told the Malta Today newspaper. “It’s the government’s action that is devaluating citizenship.”

The move comes five months after Malta’s prime minister, Joseph Muscat, was engaged in a dispute with the European Union over the numbers of illegal migrants coming into Malta via boats operated by people smugglers.He said the 17,000 people who had arrived illegally during the previous decade were putting an unacceptable strain on an island with a population of just 400,000 and little more land than the Isle of Wight. And he complained that Malta was being treated as “pushover” after the European Court of Human Rights, backed by EU commissioners, blocked moves by his government to fly one boatload of migrants back to Libya.

The reason for Malta’s rather more welcoming attitude to wealthy foreigners is largely financial. With such a small population, €30million is a major boost to the nation’s coffers, which are likely to be drained substantially by a promised 25 per cent cut in electricity rates next year. The government also hopes to raise the tiny island’s international profile by attracting celebrities or sports stars. But Dr Neil Falzon, the director of Malta’s Aditus human rights charity, said: “This scheme exclusively prioritises the financial contribution, and ignores the contribution of existing migrants, for whom citizenship is generally very difficult because the laws are very tough. “How about looking at the refugees already on the island, to see what talents they have to offer?”

Another Mediterranean EU member, Cyprus, launched a similar passport scheme earlier this year after being forced to impose a levy on foreign savers who had deposits on its collapsed international banking sector. In an attempt to stop them leaving, the government relaxed citizenship rules for any non-resident investor who had lost more than £2 million through paying the levy. The move was again targeted partly at wealthy Russians, whose savings account for nearly a third of Cyprus’s bank deposits.

Spain is also planning to offer foreigners residency permits if they buy houses worth more than €160,000 – approximately £128,500 – to try to revive the country’s property sector.

Malta, along with Italy and Greece, has borne much of the brunt of the EU's two-decade immigration crisis, with gangs smuggling poor migrants from Africa to its shores in rickety boats to seek a new life in the European Union. 

Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/