Strasbourg, 9 March 2022
- ‘Golden passports’ are “objectionable from an ethical, legal and economic point of view and pose several serious security risks”
- MEPs want common EU rules on ‘golden visas’ to fight money laundering and corruption
- A levy on ‘golden visas’ collected at EU level
Concerned that EU citizenship is for sale, Parliament proposes new common rules to address the many problems linked to ‘citizenship/residence by investment’ schemes.
On Wednesday, MEPs adopted a legislative initiative report calling on the Commission to table a proposal by the end of its mandate. The commitment by the Commission, France, Germany, Italy, the UK, Canada, and the US to limit wealthy Russians with ties to the government from accessing ‘golden passports’ was raised during Monday’s debate in plenary. The text passed with 595 to 12 and 74 abstentions.
Ban ‘golden passports’…
Parliament stresses that ‘citizenship by investment’ (CBI) schemes, under which third country nationals obtain citizenship rights in exchange for a sum of money, undermine the essence of EU citizenship. Parliament describes the practice -in place in Malta, Bulgaria and Cyprus- as “free riding”, as member states sell what was never intended to become a commodity. Applications have been accepted even when requirements were not met, MEPs say, and demand that these schemes be phased out due to the risks they pose.
…and regulate ‘golden visas’
Noting the less severe risks posed by ‘residence by investment’ (RBI) schemes, Parliament asks for EU rules to help tackle money laundering, corruption, and tax evasion, including:
- stringent background checks (also on applicants’ family members and on sources of funds), mandatory checks against EU databases, and vetting procedures in third countries;
- reporting obligations for member states, including a “notification and consultation” scheme to allow other member states to object; and
- requirements for minimum physical residence (for applicants) and active involvement, quality, added value, and contribution to the economy (for their investments).
No passports, nor visas for Russian oligarchs
Parliament welcomes the commitment by the relevant member states to limit the sale of citizenship to Russians with ties to the Russian government, and calls for all CBI and RBI schemes in the EU to exclude Russian applicants with immediate effect. MEPs urge EU governments to reassess all approved applications from the past few years and ensure that “no Russian individual with financial, business or other links to the Putin regime retains his or her citizenship and residency rights”. In addition, they call on the Commission to ban Russian nationals who are subject to EU sanctions from all RBI schemes.
A fragmented system and the role of intermediaries
MEPs deplore the lack of comprehensive security checks and vetting procedures in both types of schemes, adding that it should not be possible to file successive applications in different member states. Member states should not rely on checks carried out by non-state actors. Parliament calls for an EU levy of a meaningful percentage on the investments made – until ‘golden passports’ are phased out, and indefinitely for ‘golden visas’. It also asks the Commission to put pressure on third countries that benefit from visa-free travel to the EU to follow suit.
Noting that intermediaries in these schemes are neither transparent nor held accountable, Parliament calls for a ban on their involvement in CBIs and a “strict and binding regulation” for their role in RBIs, which should include sanctions.
Rapporteur Sophia in ‘t Veld (Renew, NL) commented: “These schemes only serve to provide a back door into the EU for shady individuals who cannot enter in broad daylight. It is time we closed that door, so that Russian oligarchs and other persons with dirty money stay out. Member state governments have refused to address the problem, claiming it was not an EU matter. Given what is currently happening, they cannot duck this issue anymore.”
The Commission has to prepare a legislative proposal or justify its decision not to do so.
At least 130 000 persons benefitted from CBI/RBI schemes in the EU from 2011 to 2019, generating revenues of over €21.8 billion for the countries concerned. CBI schemes exist in Malta, Bulgaria (where the government has tabled a draft law to end the scheme) and Cyprus (which is only processing applications submitted prior to November 2020, all of which have already been examined, according to the Cypriot government). Twelve member states have RBI schemes based on diverging amounts and options of investment.
- Adopted text (09.03.2022)
- Recording of the debate in plenary (07.03.2022)
- Press conference with the rapporteur Sophie in ‘t Veld (Renew, NL) in Strasbourg (09.03.2022)
- Press release after the committee vote (15.02.2022)
- EP Research Service: “Avenues for EU action on citizenship and residence by investment schemes – European Added Value Assessment” (21.10.2021)
- EP Research Service: At a glance: Citizenship and residence by investment schemes (March 2022)
- Member states must stop selling EU passports immediately, MEPs demand (22.10.2020)
- Procedure file
Renew Europe calls for ban on ‘golden passports’, EU rules for ‘golden visas’ and action against Russian applicants
March 9, 2022
After years of political campaigns against the schemes allowing wealthy third-country nationals to buy their way to EU citizenship and visas, the European Parliament today joined forces with Renew Europe and adopted a legislative own-initiative report by Sophie in ‘t Veld calling for a phase out of so called’ golden passport’ schemes and the setting up of EU-wide regulation on ‘golden visa’ schemes.
The report also calls for Member States to immediately stop operating their golden passport and visa schemes for all Russian applicants subject to targeted measures due to the Putin regime’s invasion of Ukraine.
Sophie in ‘t Veld, Coordinator in the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, and rapporteur for the report on Citizenship and Residence by Investment Schemes, says:
“The Parliament has taken the lead in finally ending the sale of European passports and setting strict standards for selling residency cards. For too long, the member states have let this practice stand, allowing in shady people doing shady business. Governments are selling what is not theirs to sell; and it must stop.”
More generally, the union-wide rules on golden visas are needed to harmonise standards and strengthen the fight against money laundering, corruption and tax evasion. The regulation should include stringent background checks on all applicants, requirements for minimum physical residence, an EU-level tax on the revenues Member States generate with the schemes and stricter regulation for the intermediaries for these schemes.
With today’s strong message from the European Parliament, Renew Europe demand that the European Commission put concrete legislative proposals on the table as soon as possible.
Greens/EFA: Role of Russian money in the EU shows urgent need to regulate & phase out golden visa & passport schemes
Tomorrow, MEPs will vote to call for a phase out of the sale of European passports and regulation of golden visas. Golden passport and visa schemes are citizenship and residence by investment programmes that have been used by several Member States over the last few years, including Malta, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Greece and Portugal. Limited oversight and poor accountability leads to inherent security and corruption risks. The Greens/EFA Group have long called for the Commission to take action to ban these schemes through better regulating residency by investment programmes and phasing out golden passports.
Saskia Bricmont MEP, Greens/EFA Member of the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee, comments:
“Putin’s war of aggression against Ukraine has brought the case of Russian politicians and oligarchs purchasing luxury goods, homes, and passports in Europe under the spotlight. The system of golden passports and visas carries with it inherent risks of tax evasion, corruption and money laundering. For too long oligarchs, criminals and corrupt politicians have had the ability to buy their way into Europe and launder their cash, image and identities.
“For people on the move, a European passport is often an unattainable dream. Yet, for the ultra rich an EU passport can be bought just like a luxury yacht or sports car. With that passport comes the ability to travel freely in Europe, to vote, to open a bank account, do business, launder money and exert influence.
“Eight years ago MEPs called for a ban on golden passports, which would have closed the door to Putin’s acolytes seeking to buy their way into the EU. The Commission cannot allow this situation to continue and must come up with rules to phase out the sale of citizenship and better regulate residency by investment in Europe.”
Ernest Urtasun MEP, Greens/EFA Vice President and Member of the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee, comments:
“The passports and visas of the oligarchs and loyal servants who have made vast fortunes from Putin’s regime pose a risk to European security and should immediately be reviewed as part of sanctions measures. We welcome sanctions against oligarchs linked to Putins’ regime, but the EU must go all the way and shut down all avenues that facilitate corrupt politicians and kleptocrats’ activities in Europe.
“The first step must be to phase out golden passports. But then the EU must, once and for all, end tax evasion, clamp down on shell companies, confiscate oligarchs’ assets and set up an asset recovery registry, and improve anti-money laundering standards.
“The time when European citizenship can be bought by oligarchs, criminals and corrupt politicians must end once and for all. European passports and residence permits must not be for sale.”
Greens/EFA MEPs working on tax evasion and money laundering have today released a series of proposals to prevent Russian oligarchs from abusing EU structures to hide their wealth. The proposals can be found here.
S&D Group: Wealthy Russians linked to Putin must be stripped of all rights bought through investment schemes
March 7, 2022
The S&D Group in the European Parliament supports a ban on citizenship based investment schemes that unfairly allow wealthy foreign investors to buy EU rights such as free movement.
S&D MEPs also firmly support an amendment tabled since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that calls for member states to withdraw the citizenship and residency rights, granted through investment schemes, of anyone with links to Putin’s regime and who is facing EU sanctions.
Parliament’s list of demands on the Commission, that will be debated on Monday and voted on Tuesday, also includes more rigorous security checks on residency based investment schemes, such as vetting police records, conducting interviews and financial background checks.
Elena Yoncheva, S&D negotiator for the proposals on citizenship and residence by investment schemes, said:
“For far too long, the rich, privileged few have been able to buy EU rights like they would buy their weekly food shopping. The time has come to ban citizenship investment schemes in the EU once and for all. So-called golden passports offer cherished rights, like freedom of movement and the right to vote, to the highest bidders. Parliament is also calling for governments to tighten up the eligibility criteria for residency schemes in the EU with more stringent vetting procedures for individuals and their families and with stricter requirements on reporting the time an investor spends in a country.
“There has to be the same high standard of rules in place in all member states to make sure these schemes do not pose a risk to EU security or EU interests. Member states need to be beyond doubt when it comes to legitimacy of an investor’s interests and their funding sources so that Europe is watertight in the fight against dirty money. The most urgent step is clear: we must revoke the rights of all those with financial, business or other links to Putin and his regime; rights bought through citizenship or residency based investment schemes. These individuals pose an immediate security risk to Europe and they clearly have neither Europe’s interests nor values at heart. The EU is united behind our targeted efforts to stop Russia’s relentless aggression in Ukraine and withdrawing these rights must be part of this concerted effort.”
EU-Abgeordnete Lena Düpont (EVP/CDU): EU-Pässe nicht als Ware behandeln
7. März, 16:03
Das Europaparlament debattiert heute und wird morgen ein Verbot der Praxis, Staatsbürgerschaften im Gegenzug für Investitionen zu vergeben, fordern. Hierzu erklärt die stellvertretende innenpolitische Sprecherin der EVP-Fraktion, Lena Düpont (CDU):
„Unionsbürgerschaft und Aufenthaltsrecht dürfen nicht als Ware behandelt werden. Käufliche EU-Pässe und Aufenthaltsgenehmigungen untergraben das Wesen der EU-Staatsbürgerschaft. Wir haben die Pflicht, unsere Unionsbürgerschaft zu schützen. Ansonsten gefährden wir elementare Errungenschaften, die für alle Europäer und Europäerinnen gelten, wie die uneingeschränkte Reisefreiheit im Schengen-Raum.
Die in manchen Mitgliedstaaten viel zu lange bestehende Praxis, Aufenthaltstitel und Staatsbürgerschaften gegen Investitionen im Land zu verleihen, sind seit jeher Einfallstor für Korruption, Geldwäsche und Kriminalität. Wir können nicht weiter zulassen, dass es Oligarchen so leicht haben, ihr schmutziges Geld und ihre zwielichtigen Geschäfte in die Union zu bringen.
Einbürgerungen fallen zwar in die ausschließliche Zuständigkeit der Mitgliedstaaten. Sie betreffen durch die Reise- und Niederlassungsfreiheit aber alle und stellen für die gesamte EU eine eklatante Sicherheitsbedrohung dar.
Allen voran Malta und Zypern haben mit dem Verkauf von Staatsbürgerschaften ein lukratives Geschäftsmodell entwickelt und Milliarden eingenommen. Die Beendigung des sogenannten Golden-Passport-Programms sowie die eingeleiteten Vertragsverletzungsverfahren waren überfällig, reichen aber nicht aus. Im Kampf gegen Korruption ist auch den Machenschaften dubioser Kanzleien und Beratungsfirmen umgehend Einhalt zu gebieten. Die nötigen Instrumente hierfür haben wir an der Hand.“