• Mizzi: The Maltese government is isolated on the EU stage (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

EU institutions attack Malta passport scheme

16.01.14 @ 09:26

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - The European Commission and the European Parliament have given Malta a tongue lashing over its passport sale scheme.

Justice commissioner Viviane Reding led the assault at a plenary debate in Strasbourg on Wednesday (15 January).

“Do we like the idea of selling the rights provided by the EU treaties? Certainly not. Citizenship must not be up for sale,” she told MEPs.

She noted that EU institutions have no legal power to stop Malta. But she said the scheme violates a basic principle of “international law” that governments should only grant nationality to people with a “genuine connection to the country in question.”

She also said Malta risks violating article 4.3 of the EU treaty on “sincere co-operation” with fellow member states, because the new Maltese citizens will be able to live and work in all 28 EU countries.

The scheme, due to enter into life in February, will see Malta sell 1,800 passports for €650,000 each.

A handful of EU countries have similar programmes. But the Maltese one is unique because applicants do not have to reside in Malta at any stage and can get their papers after just six months of “due diligence.”

For their part, MEPs will on Thursday enshrine their complaints in a non-binding resolution.

The draft text urges Reding to create new EU “guidelines” on the issue and “calls on Malta to bring its current citizenship scheme into line with the EU’s values.”

In a sign of the Maltese government’s isolation on the European stage, its own political group, the centre-left S&D, co-sponsored the motion, along with the centre-right EPP and the Liberal and Green groups.

Wednesday's debate saw a visibly nervous Marlene Mizzi from Malta’s ruling Labour Party defend the project.

“This attack on Maltese sovereignty is not right. Malta is no longer a colony. Whoever is trying to humiliate the Maltese people for party political reasons should be ashamed of themselves,” she said.

She got lukewarm support from the Greek EU presidency.

Its minister for EU affairs, Dimitrios Kourkoulas, noted that: “It is for member states to individually lay down their rules governing nationality. There is no harmonisation of EU law in this area.”

But the vast majority of MEPs spoke out against the scheme.

Hungarian S&D deputy Kinga Goncz said it makes Malta look bad because it is giving perks to rich people while turning away African boat migrants.

Dutch Liberal Jan Mulder noted that Malta is making itself into a “back door into the European Union.”

Romanian centre-right MEP Sebastian Bodu said it is “unacceptable” that Bulgarian and Romanian people do not have the right to passport-free travel in the EU’s so-called Schengen zone, but “any Russian or Chinese gangster or oligarch can do it with no hindrance if they have a big bank account.”

The Strasbourg debate comes after Malta’s opposition Nationalist Party last week voiced similar concerns at home.

The Nationalists are nine seats short of a majority to stop the initiative.

But their leader, Simon Busuttil, has tried to scare off buyers by pledging to take away their passports if he gets back into power.

The Nationalists are also planning to organise a referendum on the scheme.

Under Maltese law, if just 10 percent of its 400,000-or-so citizens sign a petition, the government is obliged to hold a binding popular vote, which passes by 50 percent of those who cast a ballot.