by Sophie in ‘t Veld, ALDE Group Vice-President
These days European passports are for sale, and not just on the black market. Underneath the tough language on immigration from national governments, those same governments have set up “investment programmes”. These “Golden visas” schemes look like respectable economic policies, but in reality, they offer a very attractive route to EU citizenship. The required investment is modest, it can be as small as 250.000 euros. Some countries offer a passport directly to the investors and their family, other countries a residency permit, which of course will allow the beneficiaries to apply for citizenship of that country after a few years.
The “investors” originate mostly from Russia and China, and also from countries like Ukraine, Lebanon, Turkey and Syria. It is fairly obvious that these schemes attract a particular kind of people. Not exactly the Babooskas, old ladies who have been saving their every rouble under their mattress in order to move to the EU. It is more likely that the money brought into the EU was not earned in an honest way, and EU member states are facilitating money laundering in the most cynical way. And whoever has citizenship of one EU member state, automatically gets EU citizenship and all the benefits that come with it, including freedom of movement and voting rights.
Even the schemes that look very decent and transparent, have one huge weak spot: screening of the applicants and their money. Can we really rely on assurances from, say, the Russian, Chinese or Syrian authorities about the record of the applicant? Furthermore, the screening procedure is often outsourced to private companies who make big profits out of these schemes, and where there is a permanent risk of corruption. How credible is the European Union if one the one hand it imposes sanctions on Russia, and on the other allows the Russian oligarchs to freely come to Europe and become EU citizens? A cousin of Assad managed to get citizenship of an EU member state, and a Chinese businessman who was on a Interpol list of wanted people, got a residency permit via a golden visa scheme. London wants to restrict the generous visa scheme, as “Moscow upon Thames” is beginning to realise the security risks of this backdoor into the EU. One Maltese journalist that was investigating these schemes, Daphne Caruana Galizia, was murdered. Others are being harassed and intimidated.
The double standards are also staggering. While Europe is busy building Fortress Europe to keep labour migrants out, it is rolling out the red carpet for dodgy rich investors from outside the EU. A person from Africa who wants to actually work in Europe, is treated like a criminal, but we officially facilitate tax evasion and money laundering. Brexit leaves many law abiding EU citizens in the UK and EU27 in great uncertainty about their residency status, but an oligarch can simply buy his way in.
It is often argued that the EU has no means to act, as granting citizenship is an exclusive national competence. However, in the case of asylum and labour migration, there are harmonised European criteria and procedure for granting a residency status. This should also be done for the golden visa schemes. Secondly, there is an urgent need for harmonised and credible European procedures for screening the applicants. Thirdly, we need to get more transparency about the current practices in the member states concerned, and investigate possible conflicts of interests and corruption. Europe must close its back door that is wide open to crime and corruption.
Ultimately, we should ask ourselves why we want these schemes in the first place. We should attract investment by offering good returns in a strong European economy, not by selling out European citizenship.