Despite falling numbers, immigration remains divisive EU issue

Easier to continue campaigning even if the numbers are falling, than address more substantial and complex issues:

Migrant arrivals to Italy have almost dried up, new asylum requests across the European Union have more than halved in three years and at the end of 2018, Hungary’s reception centers housed just three refugees.

On the face of it, Europe’s migrant crisis appears over, but the shockwaves still resound around the continent ahead of this month’s European Parliament election, and nationalist politicians are looking to capitalize on the continued tumult.

“The most important thing is that leaders are elected who oppose immigration so that Europe will be in a position to defend itself,” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on the sidelines of an EU summit in Romania last week.

Opponents accuse far-right and populist parties of grossly exaggerating the problem, but the issue still resonates, with a YouGov poll published on Monday showing that immigration was currently the voters’ top concern, followed by climate change.

The survey, carried out in eight EU states, showed just 3% of respondents thought “all is well” on the migration front, YouGov said. Only 14% believed the European Union had done a good job handling the emergency.

Once consigned to the fringes of European politics, anti-immigrant parties saw support surge in 2015 when more than a million refugees and migrants flowed out of the Middle East and Africa in search of a safer, better life in Europe.

The influx caught EU governments by surprise, stretching both social and security services, and revealing the inability of Brussels to find a way of sharing the immigration burden in the face of wildly conflicting national interests.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, nationalist and eurosceptic parties are expected to chalk up their best ever result in the May 23-26 EU vote, putting them in a strong position to shape policy in the 28-nation bloc over the coming five years.

LOSING MOMENTUM

In all, some 4.57 million people have requested asylum here in the European Union since the last EU vote in 2014, a threefold increase over the prior five-year period, according to EU statistics agency Eurostat. But the numbers are receding.

Thanks partly to much tighter controls, often put in place by newly empowered anti-immigrant parties such as the League in Italy, new arrivals to Europe fell to under 150,000 last year here, U.N. data shows, with even fewer expected in 2019.

Headed by Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, the League looks set to emerge as Italy’s largest party in the May ballot, with polls suggesting it will win around 30% against 6% at the last EU election in 2014 and 17% at a 2018 national ballot.

Since taking office last June, Salvini has effectively closed ports to migrants rescued in the Mediterranean, helping cut new arrivals here to around 1,100 so far in 2019 here, down some 90% on 2018 levels and 98% on the same period in 2017.

But latest polls suggest momentum for the League might be slowing, with the focus on immigration starting to fade – at least in Italy, where concerns about the economy and corruption are pushing to the fore.

“Salvini hopes immigration will remain a central issue because it is one that generates most support for him,” said Lorenzo Pregliasco, head of political analysis firm YouTrend.

“But is hard for him to say ‘we have reduced migrant arrivals by 98 percent’ and then keep saying immigration is a threat. This is creating a problem for him,” Pregliasco told Reuters.

Looking to keep migration in the spotlight, the League and its political allies in Europe have been quick to portray the newcomers as a security threat, pointing to deadly jihadist attacks over the past five years, including assaults in Paris, Brussels, Berlin, London and Barcelona.

A poll by the European Council on Foreign Relations said there was a clear majority in every country for better protection of Europe’s borders, while Europeans saw Islamic radicalism as the biggest threat facing the continent.

“There is a creeping Islamisation, a population change, or a population displacement,” said Heinz-Christian Strache, the head of Austria’s far-right Freedom (FPO) party, a junior coalition partner.

PLAYING ON FEARS

Mainstream parties accuse the populists of playing on base emotions and say they are not interested in finding a comprehensive solution to the refugee question, which could include quotas for redistributing new arrivals around the bloc, and better integrating migrants into European society.

“The danger I see is that there are politicians in Europe who have a reason to keep this problem alive,” Manfred Weber, the German lead candidate for the EU center-right, told Reuters.

Germany took in more than a million asylum-seekers in 2015 – a decision welcomed by human rights groups, but that also stoked support for the anti-migrant, far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).

Tapping into discontent amongst part of the electorate, AfD entered the national parliament for the first time in 2017 and is the only German party that is putting an emphasis on immigration in campaigning for the EU vote.

“Refugees are bringing crime into our towns,” the AfD has said in Tweets and leaflets ahead of the ballot – an assertion rejected by its opponents.

Mainstream German parties are focusing on other issues and hoping immigration will fall off the radar screen. It is a similar story in France, where President Emmanuel Macron’s party has listed immigration as only its number 5 priority, with the environment in the top spot.

Gerald Knaus, chairman of the Berlin-based European Stability Initiative think-tank, believes that by relegating the question, moderate parties will allow extremist rivals to frame the debate and let the anti-immigrant narrative predominate.

“What is lacking from mainstream parties is a coherent, convincing message that they can control arrivals without violating human rights,” he told Reuters.

“The majority of people want migration control but they also have empathy for refugees. As things stand, these voters have no-one to turn to (in this election).”

Britons most positive in Europe on benefits of immigration

Seems counter-intuitive given the role that anti-immigration attitudes played in the Brexit referendum but compared to other European countries…. Of course, compared to Canadian numbers, support is low:

British people are more persuaded of the benefits of immigration than any other major European nation, according to a global survey, which has also found that almost half of Britons think immigrants are either positive or neutral for the country.

The YouGov–Cambridge Globalism survey found that 28% of Britons believed the benefits of immigration outweighed the costs, compared with 24% in Germany, 21% in France and 19% in Denmark. A further 20% of British people believed the costs and benefits were about equal, while 16% were not sure.

The findings contradict the assumption that Britain is more hostile to immigration than its European neighbours are. Britain was seen as taking a hardline and less compassionate response to the 2015 European migration crisis, while many argue concerns over immigration were the key driving force behind the Brexit vote.

But experts have detected a softening in attitudes towards immigration since that vote, which could in part be influenced by the prospect of the end of freedom of movement and the dramatic drop in net migration to the UK from EU countries, which in the last figures dropped to its lowest level since 2009.

In all, only 37% of Britons feel the costs of immigration outweigh the benefits – lower than in any other big European country apart from Poland. By comparison, 50% of Italians believe the net impact of immigration is negative, as well as 49% of Swedes and 42% of French and 40% of Germans.

The findings come weeks before the European parliament elections, where populist, anti-immigrant forces are projected to perform well across Europe.

Nigel Farage, whose anti-migrant “breaking point” poster came to symbolise the leave message in the 2016 EU referendum, is returning to politics with his Brexit party, while his former party, Ukip, continues to campaign on immigration issues.

However, the UK portion of the global YouGov survey suggests anti-immigrant messaging is unlikely to work across the party divide. While only 3% of Ukip voters thought benefits outweighed costs, this compared with 15% of Conservative voters and 42% who voted Labour.

The survey also suggested men were most open to the benefits of immigration, with 32% saying the overall the impact was positive, compared with 24% of women.

Sunder Katwala, the director of the identity and integration thinktank British Future, which last year published The National Conversation, a report on immigration in the UK, said studies were showing Britain was on the “glass half full” end of the debate.

“There’s an increasing body of evidence that attitudes, having been very sceptical, are becoming softer,” he said. “The salience of immigration has dropped significantly and there’s also been a warming up of attitudes.”

Katwala said a softening of attitudes had been noticed by politicians and as a result the likes of Farage had changed tone ahead of the European elections.

“There’s a lot of nuance in British attitudes. The nuance was missing in the last 10 years because we were having a debate about ‘are we able to talk about immigration or not?’,” he added.

“It’s now a debate about what we should do now. Some people accept changes are coming. Some people are more empathetic because they see stories like Windrush, they see that the 3 million Europeans in the UK aren’t just a statistic but the people we see on television worried about whether they’re allowed to stay.”

The survey shows Britons are particularly supportive of migrants, either unskilled or qualified professionals, if they have a job offer in advance.

Forty-one per cent of Britons agreed that unskilled labourers arriving in the UK with a job offer were good for the country, a higher proportion than in all other major EU nations apart from Spain.

Similarly, Britons showed the highest level of support than any country surveyed for qualified professionals coming to the UK with a job offer, with 80% agreeing they were good for the country – compared, for example, with just 56% of French respondents.

Conversely, Britons are less supportive than other western nations in the survey of migrants arriving without a job in search for work.

Only 14% of Britons thought unskilled labourers coming to the UK to search for work were good for the country, with only Sweden and Germany showing lower levels of support for this kind of migrant.

Britons also appeared relatively hostile to refugees. Only 29% of Britons thought people fleeing war or persecution were good for the country, less than any other EU or anglophone country in the survey. Almost half of Canadians (45%) and French (44%), in contrast, expressed support for refugees.

UK respondents also showed the lowest level of support of all countries surveyed for migrants coming to join family members who already live here, with just 22% of respondents thinking this was good for the country, compared with 56% of Polish respondents who, among the EU and anglophone countries, showed the highest level of support.

Source: Britons most positive in Europe on benefits of immigration

Europe’s south and east worry more about emigration than immigration – poll

Interesting results but understandable given the demographics:

Southern and eastern European countries are more concerned about emigration than immigration, according to a wide-ranging survey of attitudes in 14 EU countries.

In Spain, Italy, Greece, Poland, Hungary and Romania, six countries where population levels are either flatlining or falling sharply, more citizens said emigration was a worry than immigration, according to the poll by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).

The steepest falls are in Romania, where the population has decreased by almost 10% over the past decade as an exodus of mostly young people move to work in western Europe.

https://interactive.guim.co.uk/uploader/embed/2019/03/popuation-change-zip/giv-3902leY08K5RYnIs/

However, in northern and western nations, concerns over immigration far outstripped those over emigration.

The survey was conducted to establish the principal issues of concern ahead of the European parliamentary elections in May. The 14 nations polled will occupy 80% of the seats in the new parliament.

The poll discovered that Europeans are concerned about far more than migration, even though it has dominated EU politics and discourse over the five year term of the outgoing parliament. Corruption, nationalism, terrorism and climate change are also uppermost in minds.

In the survey as a whole, 20% were worried about emigration and 32% about immigration. The poll was conducted by YouGov and questioned almost 50,000 people.

https://interactive.guim.co.uk/charts/embed/mar/2019-03-25T13:41:59/embed.html

In some countries, the fear of emigration was so great that large numbers of people believed compatriots should not be allowed to leave their country for long periods of time.

https://interactive.guim.co.uk/charts/embed/mar/2019-03-25T15:48:16/embed.html

“The EU elections have been sold as a battleground over the heart of Europe,” said Mark Leonard, the director of the ECFR, adding that nationalists were trying to turn the vote into a referendum on migration.

“The findings from this poll should give heart to pro-Europeans, and show that there are still votes to be won on major issues such as climate change, healthcare, housing, and living standards,” Leonard said. “They will be making a strategic blunder if they accept the framing of the anti-European parties that this election will be won or lost on migration alone.”

Populist leaders like Hungary’s Viktor Orbán and Italy’s Matteo Salvini are seeking to put migration front and centre of the 23-26 May polls, in which 374 million people are eligible to vote in a new parliament for a five-year term. The Orbán government recently deployed a scare poster warning about migration policy in Brussels.

Hungary has refused to take refugees under an EU quota system and continues to block an EU law that proposes a permanent redistribution system for asylum seekers. The poster referred to this theme, stating: “They want to introduce compulsory relocation quotas.”

Orbán, who is under pressure to quit the main centre-right European parliament group, has called for migration policy to be “withdrawn from the commission and returned to the member states”. EU member states already play the decisive role in migration policy.

While Orbán has scaled back his media attacks, following pressure from allies in the European People’s party, he has indicated that he could resume his anti-EU campaign. “Our job now is to continually inform the people about what Brussels is up to.”

But immigration numbers have fallen sharply over the past two years: in 2018, the number who crossed the Mediterranean was put at just over 116,000 by UNHCR, down almost 90% from those who made the journey in 2015.

The survey found that Islamic radicalism was the top area of concern, worrying about one in five Europeans, though fears were much higher in countries like Belgium, France and the Netherlands than in eastern Europe.

In almost all countries, a majority of people agreed that the environment should be made a priority even if it damaged economic growth.

https://interactive.guim.co.uk/charts/embed/mar/2019-03-25T15:47:08/embed.html

But the data also showed a wide range of concerns cropping up in different countries, meaning that the election will be fought on different issues across the continent.

The economy was the single biggest concern in Italy, Romania and Greece. In seven countries – Hungary, Italy, Poland, Romania, Spain, Greece and Slovakia – more than 50% of people surveyed said corruption was a major issue.

Some experts have warned centrist and traditional parties against accepting a pro-EU versus anti-EU narrative, fearing it will only bolster populists by setting up straw-man arguments.

The European elections are the second-largest electoral contest in the world, behind the Indian elections. Voters in 27 countries are due to elect 705 MEPs, who will take office on 2 July. The UK is not scheduled to take part in the vote and will have to inform the EU by 12 April if it wishes to elect MEPs, meaning a long Brexit delay.

Source: Europe’s south and east worry more about emigration than immigration – poll

La droite européenne suspend le parti de Viktor Orbán

Overdue:

La droite européenne a décidé mercredi de suspendre le parti du dirigeant populiste hongrois Viktor Orbán de ses rangs, pour une durée indéterminée, à la suite de ses dérapages contre Bruxelles ou l’immigration, deux mois avant le renouvellement du Parlement de Strasbourg.

Le Parti populaire européen (PPE), qui réunit les formations de droite et du centre-droit de l’UE, comme la CDU de la chancelière allemande Angela Merkel ou les Républicains en France, a pris cette décision à une écrasante majorité (190 pour, 3 contre), lors d’une assemblée politique du parti à Bruxelles.

Concrètement, cette suspension signifie que le Fidesz n’aura — jusqu’à nouvel ordre — plus le droit de participer aux réunions du PPE, sera privé de ses droits de vote et ne pourra pas présenter de candidats à des postes, a précisé le président du PPE, le Français Joseph Daul, dans un tweet.

« La présidence du PPE et le Fidesz ont convenu d’un commun accord la suspension du Fidesz jusqu’à la publication d’un rapport par un comité d’évaluation [de ce parti] », selon le texte de compromis adopté.

Aucune durée de suspension n’est mentionnée dans le compromis. Selon l’eurodéputé français Franck Proust qui participait au vote, « une décision sera prise à la remise du rapport des experts, à l’automne ». Ce comité indépendant d’évaluation doit notamment être présidé par Herman Van Rompuy, ancien premier ministre belge et ancien président du Conseil européen.

Avant la réunion, la tension était montée d’un cran. Le gouvernement hongrois avait averti qu’en cas de suspension, le Fidesz « quitterait immédiatement le PPE ».

Mais un compromis a finalement été trouvé, avec la précision que cette suspension avait lieu « d’un commun accord », selon plusieurs sources.

Dans un entretien mercredi à la radio allemande Deutschlandfunk, le président de la Commission européenne Jean-Claude Juncker avait réclamé une fois de plus une exclusion du Fidesz.

« Sa place est hors du PPE », avait affirmé M. Juncker, membre de ce parti mais qui ne participait pas à cette réunion, affirmant que « depuis des années », le Fidesz « s’éloignait des valeurs démocrates-chrétiennes ».

Certains craignaient qu’exclure l’enfant terrible du PPE, une première dans l’histoire de cette formation, la plus importante du Parlement européen, n’ouvre la voie à une scission entre l’Est et l’Ouest du continent.

Risque d’une alliance avec Salvini

Ils s’inquiétaient également de le voir se jeter dans les bras du vice-premier ministre italien et ministre de l’Intérieur, Matteo Salvini, le chef de la Ligue, parti d’extrême droite.

Cela fait des mois que la droite conservatrice se divise sur le cas Orbán.

Mais, en lançant une campagne d’affichage le 19 février contre M. Juncker, le premier ministre national-conservateur hongrois avait dépassé les bornes pour ses détracteurs.

Sous le slogan : « Vous avez aussi le droit de savoir ce que Bruxelles prépare », ces affiches montraient Juncker, ricanant aux côtés du milliardaire américain juif d’origine hongroise, George Soros, et l’accusaient de soutenir l’immigration sur le Vieux continent.

Furieux, treize partis membres du PPE originaires de dix pays différents, réunis autour d’un noyau dur constitué par les pays du Benelux et de la Scandinavie, avaient réclamé début mars « l’exclusion ou la suspension » du Fidesz.

Le chef de file pour les élections européennes du PPE, Manfred Weber, avait également accentué la pression la semaine dernière à Budapest sur Viktor Orbán, devenu une source d’embarras croissant pour l’Allemand qui brigue la succession de M. Juncker.

Le Bavarois avait posé trois conditions pour le maintien du dialogue : l’arrêt de la campagne anti-Bruxelles, des excuses auprès des autres partis membres du PPE et le maintien à Budapest de l’Université d’Europe centrale (CEU) fondée en 1991 par Georges Soros.

Depuis, Viktor Orbán, 55 ans, avait fait retirer les affiches controversées. Il avait présenté ses excuses au PPE, même si elles avaient été jugées insuffisantes.

Mais concernant l’Université d’Europe centrale, sa bête noire, M. Orbán n’avait pas bougé. Cet établissement de droit américain, s’estimant chassé par le premier ministre nationaliste, va déménager l’essentiel de ses activités à Vienne

Source: La droite européenne suspend le parti de Viktor Orbán

Opinion: EU immigration policy is grist to the far-right mill

Would appear to be a similar dynamic at play in the U.S.:

Seven different EU immigration policy reform bills have been on the table for the last three years. And for three years, the bloc’s interior ministers have been fighting over them. They have been unable to come to an agreement, and they end each negotiation with the same lament: Something has to happen. Yet, nothing ever does.

The old Dublin Regulation, which stipulates that the country of first arrival is responsible for an immigrant, is still the law. Although almost all of the EU’s 28 interior ministers agree that the rule no longer works —  although they give very different reasons for why they think this is — they have yet to come up with a better solution.

A joint immigration and asylum policy that is somehow carried by all has failed to materialize.

Italy and Greece insist that new arrivals be distributed across the bloc. Hungary and Poland don’t want to take anyone. France and Germany see the countries of first arrival as bearing responsibility.

Now, at the last meeting of interior ministers before May’s European parliamentary elections, national representatives have officially admitted that they cannot come to an agreement. And with that admission, they are giving right-wing populists highly welcome campaign ammunition.

Far right will exploit the EU’s weaknesses

These will happily exploit the emotionally charged topic of immigration when making their plea to voters, as well as pillorying the EU’s inability to find a solution to this so-called crisis ahead of the May ballot. Italy’s radical right-wing interior minister, Matteo Salvini, will use that inability to justify closing Italian ports to refugees rescued at sea.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban will use the collapse of negotiations to prop up his abstruse theory that Brussels seeks to flood his country with Muslims to “replace the people.”

Far-right parties across Europe, from the AfD in Germany and the FPÖ in Austria to the EKRE in Estonia, will no doubt spew similar nonsense.

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer (CSU), who last year used immigration policy to instigate a coalition crisis in Berlin and promised to deliver a European solution to the issue, also went down in flames — having achieved absolutely nothing.

His immigrant repatriation agreement with the populist government in Italy has yet to come about  in fact, the opposite is now the case. Contrary to Germany’s wishes, Italy is threatening to put an end to Operation Sophia, the EU’s naval rescue mission in the Mediterranean. And despite having happily shaken hands with far-right radical Salvini over a done deal in June, there is not a thing Seehofer can do about it.

Empty hands

Now it will be easy to make the case for closing oneself off entirely, for borders, higher fences, and walls. The utterly divided EU has nothing to offer on immigration policy. The migration crisis that the right is always talking about does not exist at the moment; the number of arrivals to Europe has dropped dramatically.

But the EU is woefully unprepared for another rush like that of 2015. Europeans are not prepared for the next civil war, the next famine, or for immigrants fleeing their homes due to climate change. It is a scandal that this is the case just 11 weeks before European parliamentary elections. And it should surprise no one if the populists and anti-EU parties gain seats.

The real test, however, will come at the end of the year, when the EU negotiates the distribution of grant money for the next decade. Will states that take more immigrants get more money? Will those that take none be penalized by receiving less? The showdown has the potential to paralyze the EU, or even worse, destroy it entirely.

Source: Opinion: EU immigration policy is grist to the far-right mill

Swiss immigration rises again as ties with EU face test

The ongoing tension in Switzerland over immigration and sovereignty, even if the bulk is from European countries:

Immigration into Switzerland rose again last year, taking the foreign population further above 2 million as the wealthy country’s open-door policy for Europeans faces a right-wing challenge.

Neutral Switzerland allows free movement of people from the European Union and EFTA members Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway in return for enhanced access to the EU’s single market. Far-right activists complain this has swamped Switzerland with foreigners who now make up a quarter of the population.

The Swiss People’s Party and anti-EU AUNS group are readying a binding referendum under the Swiss system of direct democracy that would cancel the free-movement accord with the EU if talks to end the practice do not bear fruit within a year.

The Swiss government opposes this, calling instead to preserve free movement as an essential part of ties with the EU, Switzerland’s biggest trading partner and lifeblood for its export-reliant economy.

No date for a vote has been set yet.

Statistics released on Friday showed net immigration of EU/EFTA citizens rose by nearly 31,000 people in 2018, marginally more than in 2017.

Overall immigration – which is steered by quotas for other foreigners and temporary limits on some Balkan members of the EU – increased 2.9 percent to nearly 55,000 people.

That meant nearly 2.1 million foreigners – more than two-thirds of them from the EU and EFTA countries – lived in Switzerland at the end of last year.

Switzerland is wrestling with its approach to EU ties. Brussels wants a new treaty that would have the Swiss routinely adopt single-market rules and give EU citizens the same benefits that they get when living in EU member countries.

The Swiss government has launched domestic consultations to try to forge consensus on its response, but opposition from the right wing and normally pro-Europe left concerned about sacrificing Swiss sovereignty have left the outcome in doubt.

Questions and Answers on the Report on Investor Citizenship and Residence Schemes in the European Union

Useful reference material on citizenship and investment immigration schemes:

Questions and Answers on the Report on Investor Citizenship and Residence Schemes in the European Union

1. Investor citizenship (“golden passport”) schemes

What are investor citizenship schemes?

Investor citizenship schemes are often referred to as “citizenships for sale” or “golden passports”.  They allow foreigners to be naturalised as a citizen of a country in return for an investment, provided certain criteria are fulfilled. Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Malta operate such schemes, where investors are required to invest between EUR 800,000 to EUR 2 million.

What is the EU’s competence in the area of nationality law?

It is for each Member State to lay down the conditions for the acquisition and loss of its nationality. However, these schemes are of common EU interest since every person holding the nationality of a Member States is at the same time a citizen of the Union. The European Court of Justice has found that, while it is for every Member State to lay down the conditions for the acquisition and loss of nationality, they have to do so with due regard to Union law. Member States must therefore take into account all rules that form part of the EU legal order, including international law, which requires a “genuine connection” between the State in question and the person that is granted citizenship.

The Commission’s report focusses on the naturalisation schemes that are classified as investor citizenship schemes, which are a new form of naturalisation that systematically grant citizenship based on an investment.

What is the problem with investor citizenship schemes?

Investor citizenship schemes create a range of risks for Member States and for the Union as a whole: in particular, security risks, risks of money laundering and corruption and tax evasion.  Such risks are exacerbated by the cross-border rights associated with citizenship of the Union.

The report found that applicants are often granted citizenship without any physical residence in the Member States concerned and without any genuine link to them.  The report also identifiesconcerns that the security checks applied to applicants for investor citizenship may not be robust enough and that Member States do not consult each other on applicants for investor citizenship, and do not inform each other of rejected applicants.  The report found certain grey areas in the application of anti-money laundering legislation, since agencies operating these schemes do not fall under the EU’s anti-money laundering requirements.

In addition, the transparency surrounding investor citizenship schemes is very limited: it is not always clear who applies for these schemes, who obtains the citizenship (and hence EU citizenship) and how the money raised by such schemes is spent.

How can such schemes pose money laundering risks?

The 4th Anti-Money Laundering Directive requires financial institutions and other entities (“obliged entities”) in the EU to perform customer due diligence checks. The 5th Anti-Money Laundering Directive, which entered into force on 9 July 2018, introduced an amendment requiring enhanced customer due diligence on nationals from third-countries who apply “for residence rights or citizenship in the Member State in exchange of capital transfers, purchase of property or government bonds, or investment in corporate entities in that Member State”.  Member States must transpose the Directive by 10 January 2020 at the latest and the Commission is working with them to ensure correct full and correct transposition.

Member States also have to ensure that the application of the EU rules on anti-money laundering are not circumvented under investor citizenship or residence schemes: Member States should ensure that funds paid by investor citizenship and investor residence applicants are channelled through bodies that qualify as “obliged entities” under the Anti-Money Laundering Directive.

In addition, Member States are encouraged to take into account the potential risks of money laundering linked to investor citizenship and residence schemes in their national risk assessments carried out under the EU anti-money laundering rules and take the necessary mitigating measures.

What has the Commission proposed as next steps regarding investor citizenship schemes?

The Commission will set up a group of experts from Member States that will work to address the specific risks posed by investor citizenship schemes.  It will also address the transparency of investor citizenship schemes and of discretionary naturalisation procedures, which permit acquisition of citizenship based on investment.  The group of experts shall put in place procedures for the exchange of information and statistics on such schemes, including the exchange of information concerning applicants whose applications for citizenship have been turned down in one Member State on grounds of posing a security risk.  Finally, the group should develop by the end of 2019 a common set of security checks for investor citizenship schemes, including risk management processes that take into account security, money laundering, tax evasion and corruption.

Is there a link between investor citizenship and residence schemes?

In some cases, investor residence schemes may facilitate the acquisition of citizenship.  In particular, a residence permit acquired by investment can be used under some Member States’ ordinary naturalisation procedures to provide fast-track access to permanent residence and then citizenship. In countries which have both citizenship and residence investor schemes, the investment required for the residence scheme may be taken into consideration to qualify for the investor citizenship scheme.

In addition, both schemes pose similar risks in terms of security, money laundering and tax evasion.

2. Investor residence (“golden visa”) schemes

What are investor residence schemes?

Investor residence schemes – often referred to as “golden visas” – grant a right of residence on a Member States’ territory to third country nationals on the basis of investment in the country.  They are issued at national level, and therefore do not entitle the permit holder to reside outside the issuing Member State. They do entitle the holder, however, to travel freely within the Schengen zone for a maximum of 90 days in any 180-day period. Currently, 20 Member States run such schemes: Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Estonia, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain and the United Kingdom.

What is the EU’s competence as regards investor residence schemes?

Residence permits for foreign investors are not regulated at EU level and remain governed by national law. EU law regulates the entry conditions for specific categories of non-EU nationals (for example students and researchers, seasonal workers and intra-corporate transferees).

What type of investments are required under these schemes? 

Residence investor schemes have very different features, particularly as regards the nature and amount of investment. Investment amounts can range from EUR 13,500 to over EUR 5 million in the form of capital investment, investment in immovable property, investment in government bonds, or donations to an activity contributing to the public good charity or one-time contributions to the national budget. These options are not mutually exclusive, and some Member States allow for different types of investment and their combination.

What are the main risks of investor residence schemes identified by the Commission?

  •     Security risks: In a Schengen area without internal border controls, it is particularly important to ensure that the commonly agreed security checks are fully implemented, for example through centralised information systems such as: the Schengen Information System (SIS); the Visa Information System (VIS); EURODAC and the newly established Entry/Exist system (EES); and the Electronic Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS). Member States must ensure that investor schemes do not undermine and jeopardise these security efforts by allowing them to circumvent these security checks. The Commission’s report has identified both a lack of available information and an important level of discretion in the way Member States approach security checks. For these reasons, the Commission will closely monitor compliance of existing investor residence schemes with EU law to ensure that all obligatory existing border and security checks are systematically and effectively carried out by Member States.
  •     Money laundering: Member States should ensure that funds paid by investor citizenship applicants are assessed according to the EU anti-money laundering rules. This includes enhanced customer due diligence checks on non EU-nationals who apply for residence rights and, as with other higher risk financial transactions or activities, full transparency around the residence schemes to ensure the integrity of funds entering the Union financial system. Member States should also ensure that authorities running investor residence schemes have an obligation to check the origin of funds in investors’ schemes.
  •     Impact on EU law on legal migration: Residence permits obtained by investment but with limited or no required physical presence of the  investor in the Member State in question could have an impact on the application of and rights associated with the EU Long-Term Residence Status. In the absence of an effective monitoring of continuity of residence, investors considered to be residing in a Member State on the basis of a national permit for five years could acquire EU Long Term Resident status and subsequent rights, in particular mobility rights, without fulfilling the actual condition of continuity of residence for five years. This would not be compliant with the Long-Term Residence Directive.
  •     Fast-track to citizenship: Sometimes, a residence permit obtained by investment and without requiring any physical presence may provide fast-track access or a link to permanent residence and then citizenship. In Member States that have both investor citizenship and residence schemes, the investment required for the residence scheme may be taken into consideration to qualify for the investor citizenship scheme.
  •     Tax evasion: There is a risk that the use of investor residence schemes may facilitate abuse as the documentation issued under some of these schemes can make it difficult for financial institutions to correctly identify the legitimate place of tax residence. This is whyMember States should make use of the available tools in the EU framework for administrative cooperation in the context of tax avoidance, in particular for exchange of information.

What has the Commission proposed as next steps regarding investor residence schemes?

The Commission will monitor compliance by Member States with EU law, in particular, with existing EU legal migration and family reunification rules, as well as existing rules regarding the use and implementation of the EU’s migration, border and security information systems.

What are the risks of investor citizenship schemes run by third countries that have a visa-free regime with the EU? How can they be mitigated?

Acquiring the citizenship of a third country, which has visa-free access to the EU for short stays, can permit nationals who require a visa to enter the EU to circumvent the regular Schengen visa procedure and the in-depth assessment of individual migratory and security risks it entails.

However, since April 2017 such risks are mitigated as all travellers, including those that do not require an EU visa, are checked at the EU’s external borders as to whether they fulfil the entry conditions, including by carrying out checks in the Schengen Information System and Member States’ national databases. If there are indications that a traveller could pose a risk to internal security or public policy of any of the Member States, entry could be refused. New information systems such as the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS), and the Entry/Exit System (EES) will further contribute to enhancing effective checks of non-EU travellers.

In addition, in March 2017, a revised and strengthened visa suspension mechanism entered into force. It provides for new grounds for the temporary suspension of visa liberalisation, including where the third country in question by its actions – or inaction – is endangering the public policy or internal security of the EU Member States. It applies horizontally to all third countries whose citizens enjoy visa-free access to the Union. The Commission will monitor the impact of investor citizenship schemes implemented by visa-free countries as part of this mechanism.

What will the Commission do to mitigate the risks of investor residence and investor citizenship schemes operated by candidate countries and potential candidates?

In view of the risks inherent in investor citizenship schemes, the Commission will monitor citizenship investor schemes as part of the EU accession process. The countries concerned will be expected to have robust monitoring systems in place, including systems to counter possible security risks such as money laundering, terrorist financing, corruption and infiltration of organised crime linked to any such schemes.

What will the Commission do to mitigate the risks of investor residence and investor citizenship schemes?

The Commission will monitor wider issues of compliance with EU law raised by investor citizenship and residence schemes and it will take necessary action as appropriate. For this reason, Member States need to ensure, in particular, that:

  •          All obligatory border and security checks are systematically carried out;
  •          The requirements of the Long-Term Residence Permit Directive and the Family Reunification Directive are properly complied with;
  •          Funds paid by investor citizenship and residence applicants are assessed according to the EU anti-money laundering rules;
  •          In the context of tax avoidance risks, there are tools available in the EU framework for administrative cooperation, in particular for exchange of information.

The Commission will monitor steps taken by Member States to address issues of transparency and governance in managing these schemes. It will establish a group of experts from Member States to improve the transparency, governance and the security of the schemes. That group will be tasked, in particular, with:

  •      Setting up a system of exchange of information and consultation on the numbers of applications received, countries of origin and on the number of citizenships and residence permits granted/rejected by Member States to individuals based on investments;
  •      Developing a common set of security checks for investor citizenship schemes, including specific risk management processes, by the end of 2019.

Finally, concerning third countries setting up similar schemes, which may have security implications for the EU, the Commission will monitor investor citizenship schemes in candidate countries and potential candidates as part of the EU accession process. It will also monitor the impact of such schemes by EU visa-free countries as part of the visa-suspension mechanism.

What are the risks of tax evasion linked to these schemes?

While the underlying study did not look into tax aspects related to investor citizenship and residence schemes, it seems that very few of the schemes include provisions with the explicit purpose of avoiding or evading tax. That said, a risk of potential aggressive tax planning and evasion can be created when individuals partaking in the schemes are abruptly granted new or additional citizenships which may help to obscure the actual tax residence of the individual, leading to the tax rules in their original country to be circumvented. Schemes in countries which do not tax the income, or tax it at a very low rate, carry a greater risk of account holders hiding evidence of the real state of residence and thereby evading tax. In particular, some EU citizens may deliberately evade taxation in their EU State of residence by acquiring citizenship and declaring themselves tax resident in countries where enforcement of certain requirements is less strict than in others. EU financial institutions may  be less familiar with schemes in place outside the EU in order to evaluate their relevance. Documentation issued under some of these schemes may also make it very difficult for financial institutions to identify correctly the legitimate places of tax residence.

What can be done to limit these tax risks?

EU countries that offer investor citizenship and residence schemes are already subject to strict EU transparency rules that came into force in 2014 and which ensure that all Member States exchange information with each other on the financial accounts held by EU citizens from other countries. These transparency rules have in recent years been significantly extended to include a wealth of other information. Most recently, the rules have been supplemented with new reporting provisions for tax intermediaries (factsheet) who offer advice that could lead to tax evasion or fraud. At the same time, EU level networks of fraud investigators have also been strengthened to enable professionals from all Member States to exchange more information and best practices.

However, there are a number of actions could be taken outside of the EU’s tax transparency framework to minimise the risk of tax evasion when it comes to citizen investorship schemes such as considering the issues they raise for tax purposes in the work being carried out by Member States in the Council to reform the Code of Conduct for business taxation and whether the risks posed merit the inclusion of these issues in the criteria on which the EU’s list of non-cooperative tax jurisdictions is based.

Source: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-19-527_en.htm

Citizenship schemes should be ‘phased out as soon as possible’

Hard not to agree with this recommendation of  the European Parliament:

Schemes which offer citizenship or residency by investment should be phased out as soon as possible, a European Parliament special committee has said.

In a draft report released on Tuesday, the Special Committee on Financial Crimes and Tax Evasion expressed concerns about Malta’s Individual Investor Programme, saying it could “potentially pose” high risks.

Their concerns came following an analysis by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which found Malta could potentially offer a back-door to money-launderers and tax evaders.

Read: Malta at ‘high’ risk of being used for money laundering

Following continued revelations over the past year, including the Panama Papers and Paradise Papers, the European Parliament decided to set up a special committee on financial crimes, tax evasion and tax avoidance.

After many months of expert hearings, studies and fact-finding missions, the committee presented its findings on Wednesday.

The report, put forward by Czech MEP Luděk Niedermayer and Danish MEP Jeppe Kofod, calls for an urgent reform of outdated and international tax rules.

“Anti-money laundering provisions in Europe are a loose patchwork blanket of EU and national rules. The blanket clearly doesn’t cover all it needs to, and the patches don’t quite line up, leaving loopholes,” Mr Kofod said.

In a statement, the EPP also came out strongly against schemes offering citizenship or residences for investment.

These schemes were being abused and posed a security threat to the rest of the EU, MEP Dariusz Rosati, EPP group spokesman in the committee said.

In his reaction, PN MEP Francis Zammit Dimech said concerns related to proper lack of due diligence meant countries were facing “totally unnecessary security risks”.

Nationalist MEP Francis Zammit Dimech

“This is why we shall keep on insisting on the full and clear disclosure of the names of all persons acquiring citizenship and not try to hide those names from public attention and scrutiny,” he said.

The draft report will be discussed on November 27.

And in other citizenship-by-investment news, this editorial in the Jordan Times regarding recent Jordanian proposals:
The government decided on Sunday to have another look at the regulations governing granting of the Jordanian nationality to foreigners by raising the financial stakes for their eligibility.

Depositing $1.5 million with the Central Bank of Jordan, purchasing no less than $1.5 million worth of Jordanian treasury bonds or even buying stakes in Jordanian companies worth $1.5 million are all well and good revisions, but making the price of citizenship higher does not go far enough. The Jordanian nationality has no price and cannot be measured in US dollars or Jordanian dinars. There must be something much more important and valuable for obtaining the Jordanian nationality.

One would have thought, therefore, that the government would revisit other factors for citizenship qualification that go beyond money. What about having potential citizen take a test, like all countries do when they grant citizenship to foreigners, with a view to determining the extent of their knowledge of the history of the country and its goals and aspirations.

Potential citizens must be also sensitive to the culture of the country, and its regional and international challenges. Above all, there is a need to gauge the extent of their solemn loyalty to the country.

None of these non-material testing grounds appear to figure highly in the process leading to granting citizenship to foreign applicants. And come to think of it, why not invite Parliament to have a look also at the citizenship process for foreign applicants. The people’s representatives need to have voice in this important policy.

Being a Jordanian is a very serious matter and taking it should not be for serving applicants’ immediate needs. Otherwise, the Jordanian nationality would become a citizenship of convenience.

Jordanians at large would want to make sure that no one is contemplating taking Jordan for a ride, to serve their own immediate and perhaps temporary goals. This whole process of granting citizenship to investors requires another look, a look that is deeper and multidimensional.

Source: Citizenship is not a commodity

Brisk business in EU golden visas and citizenship scams

More on these scams:

As demand for residency or citizenship in EU member states has grown, a market has emerged in which corrupt national officials falsify documents for a fee. And that is not all: Many governments of EU member states openly and officially benefit from selling “golden visas,” raking in billions of euros.

Last week in Bulgaria, about two dozen officials were temporarily detained because they had for many years illegally sold fake certificates of ancestry to people from Macedonia, Moldova and Ukraine — and reportedly made thousands of euros in doing so. People holding such certificates, authenticated by the State Agency for Bulgarians Abroad, can apply for citizenship. Petar Haralampiev, the head of SABA and a notorious nationalist politician suspected of being the ringleader, was among the officials arrested; he has been removed from his post.

In 2012, DW’s Bulgaria desk was one of the first media outlets to report on SABA’s sale of fake ancestry documents to foreigners. Beginning in 2013 Katja Mateva, a lawyer and the former head of the citizenship department in Bulgaria’s Justice Ministry, repeatedly offered senior government officials information on the sales. In 2014, Petko Petkov, the deputy justice minister at the time, sent a memorandum on the matter to interim Prime Minister Georgi Bliznashki. Nothing happened.

Mateva told DW that she was sidelined for years at the Justice Ministry, and ultimately dismissed in 2017. Petkov was branded a traitor by his colleagues. Both Mateva and Petkov told DW that senior politicians have not been keen to stop the deals.

Ancestry certificates offer citizenship in Romania and Hungary, too. In Romania, the deal mainly affects people from Moldova, where two-thirds of the population are of Romanian descent. Ukraine is also home to people of Romanian and Hungarian descent. Regional media report that fake certificates have been sold in Romania and Hungary for years. Thousands of Russians and Ukrainians are believed to have secured Romanian or Hungarian citizenship in this manner.

‘Security risks’

There’s also a brisk trade in golden visas in the European Union. Non-EU citizens can buy citizenship or a permanent residence in many countries by coming in as investors. EU member states such as Bulgaria, Greece, Great Britain, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Austria, Portugal, Spain, Hungary and Cyprus have offered or still offer such programs.

Transparency International and Global Witness report that at least 6,000 people have bought citizenship and more than 100,000 have received residency in this manner over the past decade. The total income, the NGOs report, amounted to at least €25 billion ($28.5billion). Golden visa programs encourage money laundering and offer businesspeople a safe haven, the NGOs report. They urge the European Union to put a stop to this practice.

Hungary’s golden visa program ran until 2017. Though there is almost no official information, Hungarian investigative journalists have repeatedly — most recently three weeks ago — published findings on the program’s beneficiaries. According to the reporters, Russian politicians, relatives of high-ranking Russian secret service officials and confidants of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad have received Hungarian citizenship or residency. Ghaith Pharaon, a Saudi businessman who died in 2017 and was wanted by the US for bank fraud and money laundering, also allegedly received a Hungarian residence permit and applied for citizenship.

“This business practice poses security risks, not only for Hungary but the entire European Union,” Andras Petho, an editor with Hungary’s Direkt36 center for investigative journalism, told DW.

He pointed out an “interesting contradiction.”

The Hungarian government minces no words when speaking out against immigration. “At the same time, lots of people from outside the EU are being brought into the country by way of the golden visa program,” Petho said, “people hardly anyone has checked.”

Source: Brisk business in EU golden visas and citizenship scams

The EU Is Demanding A Critical Change To Malta’s Sale Of Citizenship Scheme

Overdue (and likely not enough):

The European Commission demanded Malta revamp its controversial sale-of-citizenship scheme to ensure new Maltese citizens live on the island for at least a year.

“Becoming a Maltese citizen means becoming an EU citizen and gaining the benefits of free movement,” EU Justice Commissioner Vĕra Jourová said during a visit to Malta this afternoon. “The European Commission must ensure that Malta only gives citizenship to people with a real link to the country and who reside in it for at least a year.”

Jourová’s warning will come as a blow to the Maltese government, which often rebuts criticism at the Individual Investor Programme (IIP) by insisting that the European Commission has no problem with it.

While acknowledging that member states have sovereignty over citizenship schemes, Jourová pledged to continue raising concerns about potential threats posed by the IIP.

“We must not enable suspicious people to acquire European citizenship through an easy way and use it to launder money or to pose some sort of security threats to the continent,” she said. “We have a legitimate right to require some basic parameters for citizenship scheme.”

She said the European Commission is currently analysing all EU citizenship schemes, including Malta’s IIP, ahead of a detailed report that will be published by the end of the year.

“If it turns out that this assessment isn’t favourable to the Maltese IIP, then I believe we will be able to work hand in hand with the Maltese authorities to improve the system.”

Jourová’s assessment came after she met key players in the industry today, including the IIP’s chief executive officer Jonathan Cardona.

The IIP requires applicants to pay €650,000 to the government as well as to invest in government bonds and to either buy a property worth at least €350,000 or to rent a property out for at least €16,000 over five years. However, it doesn’t require applicants to actually live on the island – a fact that was probed by the BBC alongside Daphne Caruana Galizia a few months before her assassination.

Source: The EU Is Demanding A Critical Change To Malta’s Sale Of Citizenship Scheme