The controversial schemes that allow wealthy families from China, Russia and other non-European states to purchase the right to live in the European Union are back in the spotlight. This time, the European Commission is accused of doing little to crack down on those abusing the system.
The criticism came on January 23 after the Commission tabled an action plan, which proposed an expert group to monitor how schemes are operated. Critics say the measures proposed are not enough.
European Commissioner for justice, Věra Jourová, said: “We want more transparency on how nationalities are granted and more cooperation between member states,” she said. “There should be no weak link in the EU, where people could shop around for the most lenient scheme.”
As reported by the Guardian, in the last 10 years, European states have granted citizenship to about 6,000 people and residence permits to a further 100,000, typically in exchange for investments in government bonds and property.
Two member states, Malta and Cyprus, sell citizenship. A third country, Bulgaria, announced a day before the report’s release that it would be ending its citizenship programme. A further 20 countries, including the UK, operate investor visa schemes and many of these offer a fast track to permanent residency.
“The sale of civil rights poses a serious threat to our security and the fight against corruption in the EU,” said the Green MEP Sven Giegold, who has campaigned for the practice to be abolished. “The commission’s proposal is half-hearted and was presented only at the insistence of the European parliament.”
The Greens want binding minimum standards and a new European law to curb abuses.
“The tide is turning on the golden visa industry with the EU recognising the unacceptable security and corruption risks they create,” said Naomi Hirst of the anti-corruption group Global Witness. “However, the commission’s report tells us nothing about what member states actually need to do”
In a separate report, Deutsche Welle (DW), Germany’s international broadcaster, noted a joint report by Global Witness and Transparency International released in October said EU states had given passports to around 6,000 people and residency rights to around 100,000 people in the past decade, securing about €25bn of foreign direct investment in return. Spain received €976m annually compared to €498m in Britain, the report said.
“By their very nature, golden visa schemes are an attractive prospect for the criminal and the corrupt,” Global Witness and Transparency International wrote in the report titled “European Getaway: Inside the Murky World of Golden Visas”.