Malta’s decision to sell passports, hence European citizenship, for €650,000 to non-EU residents, without any prerequisite whatsoever, not even residence in Malta, has angered MEPs, who debated the issue Wednesday (15 January).

The measure is meant to bridge the budget gap and attract rich investors to the island. The government hopes to get €30 million the first year of implementation.

Manfred Weber, a member of the European People’s Party in the European Parliament, called for the legislation 'not put in place'.

Wishful thinking

The request is nothing but wishful thinking since the EU cannot prevent the member state from carrying on with legislation. Indeed, the granting of citizenship is an exclusively national competence even if it gives the same rights to all EU citizens.

“Granting citizenship to a person means giving them rights in all other 27 member states,” the European Commission vice-president in charge of fundamental rights, Viviane Reding, conceded that she "cannot extend the rights of the Commission on this issue."

The Parliament voted in favour of a resolution condemning the measure but it is not binding.

Cyprus, Austria, Belgium and Portugal singled out

Although the Maltese decision has shocked the European Parliament, the sale of EU passports is not a first, the French MEP Sylvie Guillaume said. Malta is only the first country to put a price tag on its passports.

A document prepared by the Maltese authorities lists the number of countries that offer a national passport in exchange for investments, among them Cyprus and Austria.

Austria has mooted the possibility of granting citizenship in exchange for €3 million of foreign direct investment. Cyprus gives the same possibility for €2 million investment in real estate or a €500,000 donation to the research and technology fund.

Belgium and Portugal give residence permits that lead to full citizenship in exchange for large investments.

“But there is a difference between selling the nationality and getting a residence permit in exchange for investments in the country’s economy,” Wim Van de Camp from the European People's Party political group said.

Guillaume, of the Socialists and Democrats, expects the issue to resurface in the EU political debate but concedes that the question will not progress rapidly, since “the European Union lacks a common framework concerning the granting of European citizenship,” another French MEP added.