Wednesday

28th Sep 2016

EU commission prepares legal challenge on Malta passport sales

  • Mizzi: 'This attack on Maltese sovereignty is not right' (Photo: Peter Grima)

The European Commission is laying the groundwork for a legal challenge to Malta’s passport sale scheme despite red lines on national sovereignty.

The EU treaty says decisions on granting citizenship are the prerogative of member states.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

But lawyers for justice commissioner Viviane Reding are looking to file potential infringement proceedings on the basis of article 4.3 of the EU treaty, which also says member states must act “pursuant to the principle of sincere co-operation.”

The logic is that if Malta sells nationality to, say, a Russian oligarch, they are, in fact, selling the right to live in all 28 EU countries, putting fellow member states at risk if Maltese due diligence fails to weed out criminals.

EU officials have dug up two files - the Micheletti case of 1990 and the Rottman case of 2008 - in which the EU court in Luxembourg ruled that citizenship decisions must be made with due regard to wider EU law.

They note that the commission cited article 4.3 in recent infringement proceedings on tax reform in Hungary, in which Hungary backed down instead of going to court.

They also note that a ruling by the International Court of Justice in The Hague - the Nottebohm case of 1955 - says that citizenship should only be granted to people who can demonstrate a real bond with their new country, for instance, by living there for a few years before they get their papers.

But Malta is to sell the EU passports after a vetting process of just six months, with no obligation to ever live on the group of Mediterranean islands.

A Reding spokeswoman told EUobserver on Wednesday (22 January) the commission is currently in talks with Malta to settle the dispute in a friendly way.

“She’s not asking to extend the legal power of the commission on who grants citizenship to whom,” the spokeswoman said.

“But we think it’s important to remind member states of the principles that should be taken into account when granting citizenship, which gives you access to full EU citizenship rights,” the spokeswoman added.

The Maltese government could not be reached for a comment on Thursday.

EU sources said it has "indicated a willingness" to discuss the issue with Brussels.

But Maltese MEPs from the ruling centre-left Labour Party in Strasbourg last week criticised what they see as an attempt to bully their tiny country, which stands to make €1 billion from the sell-off.

“This attack on Maltese sovereignty is not right. Malta is no longer a colony,” the party’s Marlene Mizzi said at the time.

Meanwhile, the government is ploughing ahead with the scheme despite its “technical-level” talks with Reding’s people.

It published the legal application forms last Friday and potential new EU citizens have begun dropping in to Valletta.

It is also giving special treatment to the wealthy applicants, who are to pay €650,000 in cash and to buy another €150,000 of Maltese stocks or bonds to get their EU perks.

When Maltese media tried to film a Chinese applicant at Malta International Airport this week, security staff let him into a zone normally reserved for "VVIPs," such as government ministers from other countries, to escape scrutiny.

“The question is: If the government is really going to discuss this with the [EU] commission, then why is it already going forward with the scheme? … The mind boggles,” Jason Azzopardi, an MP from the opposition centre-right Nationalist Party, told this website.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. GoogleDid You Know Europe's Largest Dinosaur Gallery Is in Brussels? Check It Out Now
  2. IPHRHuman Rights in Uzbekistan After Karimov - Joint Statement
  3. CISPECloud Infrastructure Providers Unveil Data Protection Code of Conduct
  4. EFAMessages of Hope From the Basque Country and Galicia
  5. Access NowDigital Rights Heroes and Villains. See Who Protects Your Rights, Who Wants to Take Them Away
  6. Martens CentreQuo Vadis Georgia? What to Expect From the Parliamentary Elections. Debate on 29 September
  7. EJCAppalled by Recommendation to Remove Hamas From EU Terrorism Watch List
  8. GoogleBringing Education to Refugees in Lebanon With the Clooney Foundation for Justice
  9. HuaweiAn Industry-leading ICT Solution Provider and Building a Better World
  10. World VisionUN Refugees Meeting a Wasted Opportunity to Improve the Lives of Millions of Children
  11. Belgrade Security ForumCan Democracy Survive Global Disorder?
  12. GoogleTrimming the Waste-Line: Weaving Circular Economy Principles Into Our Operations