EU says citizenship 'not for sale' amid criticism of investor schemes
Investor schemes that grant passports come in for criticism in wake of Maltese plan
The European Commission has warned that EU citizenship "must not be up for sale" following controversy over a Maltese initiative to grant passports to wealthy foreign investors.
"Granting the nationality of a member state means also granting EU citizenship and the rights attached to it," EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding told the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday. Member states should only award citizenship to persons where there is a "genuine link" to the country in question, she added. "Citizenship must not be up for sale."
She said the EU's executive arm was paying close attention to member countries which had set up investor schemes for granting citizenship, with Malta being the most recent example.
The Maltese citizenship project, proposed by the Labour government of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, would grant Maltese passports to foreigners willing to invest €1.15 million (HK$12.1 million) in the country, part of which was to be invested in real estate.
"It is legitimate to question whether EU citizenship rights should merely depend on the size of someone's wallet or bank account," Reding said.
Several members of the European parliament (MEP) also spoke out against putting a price tag on EU citizenship during a debate on the issue.
German conservative Manfred Weber called for an end to such legislation, while French far-left MEP Marie-Christine Vergiat said putting citizenship up for sale would only encourage money laundering.
A resolution on "citizenship for sale" was to be put to a vote in the European Parliament yesterday.
Hannes Swoboda, the leader of the Socialists and Social Democrats group in the European Parliament, called for any reference to Malta to be left out of the resolution, arguing that it would be unfair to single out individual countries on an issue that "concerns us all".
Britain is one of the EU states with a scheme that grants foreigners residency rights in exchange for a financial gesture.