The European Parliament in Strasbourg on May 30 debated the controversial “Golden visa” programmes used by European Union member states to grant citizenship or long-term residence rights to immigrants in exchange for investment.

MEPs are reportedly concerned that corruption and crime will increase through these types of schemes and fear that they might be contrary to EU values.

“The Parliament’s view is clear: the sale of citizenship and the sale of the rights associated with EU citizenship is wrong,” said EPP Group Spokeswoman in the European Parliament’s Committee on Justice, Home Affairs and Civil Liberties, Roberta Metsola MEP. “This commoditisation dilutes every European’s citizenship. We should not turn a blind eye and neither should the European Commission. Citizenship must imply a genuine link with a Member State – these schemes do not.

“As the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has recently noted, such schemes are hugely vulnerable to abuse and undermine the fight against corruption in our member states, she added. “They have created a backdoor to the EU in the most opaque way possible and undermine all our efforts to tackle the influx of dirty money, corruption and money laundering.”

According to Dariusz Rosati MEP, EPP Group Spokesman in the Special Committee on Financial Crimes, Tax Evasion and Tax Avoidance, selling EU citizenship means the rich can “free-ride on our common European assets”.

“It also allows the rich to escape sanctions or launder money,” said Rosati. “Take the example of Malta, where rich Russian citizens – who potentially could be targeted by further sanctions – are amongst the nationalities that most frequently receive Maltese – therefore European – citizenship.”

Ahead of the debate S&D Group Spokesperson for civil liberties, justice, and home affairs, Birgit Sippel warned this type of cash-for-passport or residency scheme has consequences for the whole EU.

“There is also an irony that countries like Hungary, who have been the most vocally anti-migrant, have been some of the largest users of these golden visa schemes, creating the sense there is one rule for the rich and a different one for everyone else,” added Sippel.

“This is an EU wide issue and we need an EU wide response. We want the European Commission to monitor how countries are using these golden visa schemes and ensure that we are not providing an easy back door in the EU for dodgy money and dodgy characters.”