The European Commission recommended Monday
that EU nations end golden passport schemes that allow wealthy people to buy
their way into the bloc’s citizenship, and urged them to assess whether Russian
oligarchs linked to the Kremlin or who support the war in Ukraine should be
stripped of citizenship rights previously granted.
The European Commission launched
infringement procedures against Cyprus and Malta in 2020 regarding their golden
passports schemes, and the Russian war in Ukraine has put an increased focus
on the topic.
The Commission warned that some Russian or
Belarusian citizens who are among the 877 individuals targeted by asset freezes
and travel bans imposed since 2014, or who support the Russian invasion of its
neighbour, might have acquired EU citizenship or had access to the Schengen area
via these schemes.
The EU’s executive arm said the countries
should now consider whether they should withdraw golden passports issued to
such individuals. In addition, it recommended immediately taking away residence
permits that have been granted under an investor scheme to Russian or
Belarusian citizens supporting the war or subject to sanctions.
Malta and Bulgaria currently have
citizenship by investment plans in operation, while Cyprus which scrapped its
own program in November 2020 is only processing applications submitted before
that date. Bulgarian lawmakers recently backed a decision to end its golden
Cyprus cancelled the programme after an
undercover TV report allegedly showed the parliamentary speaker and a powerful
lawmaker claiming that they could skirt rules to issue a passport to a
fictitious Chinese investor who had supposedly been convicted of fraud at home.
A 2021 report found that more than half of
a total 6,779 passports were issued unlawfully to relatives of wealthy
investors over the program’s 13-year run that generated over 8 billion euros.
The report said the government had incorrectly interpreted the law on issuing
passports to relatives and also found that nearly 770 foreigners were wrongly
granted citizenship primarily because of inadequate vetting.
According to the EU Parliament, twelve EU
countries operate residence by investment schemes. The minimum investment
levels range from 60,000 euros to 1,250,000 euros.
“European values are not for sale. We
consider that the sale of citizenship through ‘golden passports’ is illegal
under EU law and poses serious risks to our security,” said Didier
Reynders, the Commissioner for Justice and Consumers. “It opens the door
to corruption, money laundering and tax avoidance.”
The commission’s recommendation came after
European lawmakers called earlier this month for an end to the sale of
citizenship through investment schemes, and for a better regulation of
residence by investment programmes.
In addition to its call “to immediately
repeal any existing investor citizenship schemes,” the commission also
urged EU countries to conduct strict checks before issuing any residence permit