Record year for EU countries granting citizenship to foreigners

Some useful data here even if 2021, not 2022. By way of comparison, the Canadian figure, in terms of total population in 2022 is higher, about 9.3 per thousand:

In total 827,300 people acquired citizenship in EU member states in 2021, an increase of around 98,300 (14 per cent) over 2020, when the number was 729,000, according to the latest data published by the EU statistical office Eurostat.

Although the figures are likely to see a ‘pandemic effect’ compared to 2020 when many countries shut down or severely restricted administrative processes during the lockdowns, the figures also show a rise compared to 2019. In that year 706,400 people were granted citizenship in EU countries.

Around the EU countries, the administrative process of getting citizenship takes an average of two years, so most of the people getting their citizenship in 2021 would have applied for it in previous years.

Largest growth in France

The largest increase in absolute terms was recorded in France (+43,900 compared to 2020), followed by Germany (+18,800), Spain (+17,700), Sweden (+9,200) and Austria (+7,200).

In 10 countries, however, the number decreased, with the largest decline in Italy (-10,300), Portugal (-7,600) and Greece (-3,200).

Among new citizens, the proportion of women was slightly higher than men (50.2 over 49.8 per cent), especially for the age groups above 30. The median age of persons acquiring citizenship in the EU was 32.

About of quarter, 25 per cent, were children between 0 and 14 years old, with the highest proportions in Slovenia (35 per cent), Latvia (34 per cent) and France (33 per cent), according to the data, which Eurostat collects from national statistical offices.

Highest naturalisation rate in Sweden

In relation to the total population, the highest number of citizenships were granted by Sweden (8.6 per thousand persons), followed by Luxembourg (7.8) and the Netherlands (3.6).

Sweden also topped EU countries for naturalisation rate, the proportion of persons who acquire citizenship in relation to all non-national residents.

Sweden granted 10 citizenships per 100 foreign residents in 2021, followed by the Netherlands (5.4), Romania (4.6), Portugal (3.7) and Belgium and Spain (both 2.7). The lowest naturalisation rate was in the Baltic states, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, all below 0.5, while the EU average was 2.2.

Non-EU citizens most likely to naturalise

Similar to the previous year, the vast majority of people who obtained citizenship of an EU member state were from non-EU countries: 706,900, or 85 per cent of the total.

The largest group was from Morocco (86,200 people, who acquired citizenship mostly in Spain or France), followed by Syrian (83,500, mostly in Sweden and the Netherlands), and Albanians (32,300, mostly in Italy). Then came Romanians (mostly in Italy and Germany), and Turks (Germany and France).

Among new EU citizens there were also 5,370 US nationals (compared to 3,425 in 2020), with the largest number in Austria, Norway, France, Sweden and Italy.

Naturalisation of British citizens 

The Brexit vote in 2016 led to a big increase in citizenship applications among Brits who lived in the EU, as they faced the prospect of losing their rights to EU freedom of movement.

According to Professor Maarten Vink, Chair in Citizenship Studies at the European University Institute in Italy, since 2016, more than 100,000 Brits have acquired citizenship in EU countries.

The peak for citizenship granted to Brits was in 2019, and since then numbers have seen a decrease. Anecdotally, many of the applications after 2016 were from Brits who had been resident in an EU country for many years, so could have naturalised previously.

Some 10,600 Britons acquired citizenship in EU countries in 2021, ranking 19th among other nationalities. The number decreased by 5,400, or 34 per cent, over 2020.

The largest groups were recorded in Germany (2,345), Austria (1,190), Ireland (1,186), Sweden (1,131), Belgium (1,010), Denmark (546). Only 163 were recorded in France, 343 in Spain and 453 in Italy. UK national acquiring citizenship in Norway were 1,578 and in Switzerland 855.

Source: Record year for EU countries granting citizenship to foreigners

Why promoting multiculturalism could increase support for the EU

Interesting study and linkage (may be more correlation than causation):

Many political parties combine pro-EU policies with critical stances toward immigration and multiculturalism. But are these two approaches contradictory? Drawing on a new study covering France and Germany, Natalia Bogado, Evelyn Bytzek and Melanie C. Steffens highlight that discourses emphasising the threat of cultural diversity can increase Euroscepticism among voters, while discourses promoting multiculturalism are associated with an increase in support for the EU.

Since the 1990s, the Leitkultur debate – ironically spearheaded by later Wilkommenskulturchampion, German Chancellor Angela Merkel – has been at the heart of discourses about immigration and asylum in Germany. In a nutshell, the debate is a body of discourses (more or less extreme) grounded on the notion that without a German guiding culture that everyone equally adopts (i.e. a culture into which everyone has been equally assimilated), German society would fall apart.

In other words, social cohesion and peace can only exist in conditions of complete cultural assimilation. Multiculturalism is thus disparaged as an unsustainable ideology that leads to a lack of social unity, violence, criminality, and even terrorism by those who have allegedly failed to adopt the cardinal tenets of the German culture. Accordingly, Merkel famously declared multiculturalism dead in 2010, and the notion that cultural diversity poses a serious threat to peaceful coexistence in Germany was a constant in her political rhetoric throughout her 16 years in power.

Beyond Germany and the Leitkultur, assimilation has dominated public debates about immigration and asylum in many European countries. In France, assimilationist discourses have been the leitmotif of the far-right populist Rassemblement National and the lifeline that secured electoral success for many centre-right candidates – famously, Nicolas Sarkozy, but others as well. Similarly, Brexit followed a campaign where immigration and the threat it allegedly poses to the British cultural identity were highly salient. Armed with a wide array of nationalist and assimilationist slogans, the UK Independence Party and the anti-EU factions of the Conservative Party were able to turn fears over national-identity loss and immigration into anti-EU votes.

Evidence from France and Germany

Brexit offered anecdotal evidence of the negative impact of assimilationist discourses that present immigration, asylum, and cultural diversity as a threat to the nation on support for the EU. In a new study covering Germany and France, we provide scientific evidence to support these assumptions.

Specifically, we found that reading electoral pledges (taken from the 2019 European Parliament election) such as “We must regulate immigration to preserve Europe’s cultural integrity” or “We must protect our European way of life and our Christian values under threat by unconditional migration,” decreased support for EU integration, identification with the EU and – particularly concerning in light of Brexit ­– increased intentions to vote to leave the EU.

Thus, our study evidenced that something as (apparently) innocent as expressing concern about cultural diversity threatening the integrity of national cultures and customs can fuel Euroscepticism and intentions to leave the Union. Conversely, reassuring voters of the benefits of multiculturalism and cultural diversity increased support for the EU.

Reading electoral pledges that emphasised the importance of promoting multiculturalism and respecting cultural diversity improved EU attitudes and reduced intentions to vote to leave the EU. Electoral pledges such as “We celebrate cultural diversity and want to make Europe a safe place for all” and “We are determined to defend the right of asylum and of migrants to live in Europe without having to abandon their cultural identities” had a positive impact on support for the EU, identification with the EU, and intentions to remain in the Union.

The way forward

In a context where Euroscepticism continues to grow, our research helps us to understand how politicians’ assimilationist messages can promote Euroscepticism. These findings have important implications for political and media discourse. Assimilation discourses are not exclusive to the populist far-right: many pro-EU centre-right parties have also emphasised the threat of cultural diversity in their immigration discourses.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel – who advanced a strong pro-refugee agenda, welcoming hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees and urging other EU countries to do the same – framed immigration and asylum almost exclusively in assimilation terms. In light of our findings, it is hardly surprising that during Merkel’s tenure, Germany saw the electoral rise of the Eurosceptic Alternative for Germany and the rise of radicalised groups like Pegida and others. Beyond Germany, our study highlights why, despite many politicians’ efforts to promote a pro-EU agenda, the persistence of assimilation discourses means that Euroscepticism will continue to grow among Europeans.

Furthermore, the echoes of Brexit still threaten the continuity of the Union, as exposure to information emphasising the United Kingdom’s sovereignty gains following its exit from the Union increases Euroscepticism and willingness to leave the EU. As such, the importance of adopting multicultural discourses when framing immigration and asylum for the future of the EU cannot be understated.

Additionally, our study offers further hope: in addition to promoting the benefits of multiculturalism, fostering an emotional connection to the EU can also protect the Union from the impact of assimilationist discourses. Unfortunately, data from the 2018 European Social Survey is not reassuring, as EU attachment remains moderate to low among Europeans. However, research has offered some avenues to promote EU attachment.

Recently, studies have found that policies like EU Cohesion Policy and the adoption of the euroincreased emotional attachment to the EU. Future research should continue to explore ways to achieve this longstanding goal of increasing Europeans’ attachment to the Union. At the moment, the Russian invasion of Ukraine represents a watershed moment for the EU to display its political, financial, and cultural leadership in the region and thus strengthen European citizens’ emotional attachment to the Union.

Source: Why promoting multiculturalism could increase support for the EU

EU wants to send more migrants away as irregular arrivals grow

Of note:

European Union ministers on Thursday sought ways to curb irregular immigration and send more people away as arrivals rose from pandemic lows, reviving controversial ideas for border fences and asylum centres outside of Europe.

EU border agency Frontex reported some 330,000 unauthorised arrivals last year, the highest since 2016, with a sharp increase on the Western Balkans route.

“We have a huge increase of irregular arrivals of migrants,” Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson told talks among the 27 EU migration ministers. “We have a very low return rate and I can see we can make significant progress here.”

Denmark, the Netherlands and Latvia were among those to call for more pressure through visas and development aid towards the roughly 20 countries – including Iraq and Senegal – that the EU deems fail to cooperate on taking back their nationals who have no right to stay in Europe.Only about a fifth of such people are sent back, with insufficient resources and coordination on the EU side being another hurdle, according to the bloc’s executive.

The ministerial talks come ahead of a Feb. 9-10 summit of EU leaders who will also seek more returns, according to their draft joint decision seen by Reuters.”The overall economic malaise makes countries like Tunisia change from a transit country to a country where locals also want to go,” said an EU official. “That changes things. But it’s still very manageable, especially if the EU acts together.”


That, however, is easier said than done in the bloc, where immigration is a highly sensitive political issue and member countries are bitterly divided over how to share the task of caring for those who arrive in Europe.The issue has become toxic since more than a million people crossed the Mediterranean in 2015 in chaotic and deadly scenes that caught the bloc off guard and fanned anti-immigration sentiment.The EU has since tightened its external borders and asylum laws. With people on the move again following the COVID pandemic, the debate is returning to the fore, as are some proposals previously dismissed as inadmissible.
Denmark has held talks with Rwanda on handling asylum applicants in East Africa, while others called for EU funds for a border fence between Bulgaria and Turkey – both ideas so far seen as taboo.”We are still working to make that happen, preferably with other European countries but, as a last resort, we’ll do it only in cooperation between Denmark and, for example Rwanda,” Immigration Minister Kaare Dybvad said on Thursday.
Dutch minister Eric van der Burg said he was open to EU financing for border barriers.
“EU member states continue making access to international protection as difficult as possible,” the Danish Refugee Council, an NGO, said in a report on Thursday about what it said were systemic pushbacks of people at the bloc’s external borders, a violation of their right to claim asylum.
While EU countries protest against irregular immigration, often comprising Muslims from the Middle East and North Africa, Germany is simultaneously seeking to open its job market to much-needed workers from outside the bloc.”We want to conclude migration agreements with countries, particularly with North African countries, that would allow a legal route to Germany but would also include functioning returns,” Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said in Stockholm.

Source: EU wants to send more migrants away as irregular arrivals grow

‘Risks posed by AI are real’: EU moves to beat the algorithms that ruin lives

Legitimate concerns about AI bias (which individual decision-makers have), also need to address “noise,” variability among decision-making by people for comparable cases:

It started with a single tweet in November 2019. David Heinemeier Hansson, a high-profile tech entrepreneur, lashed out at Apple’s newly launched credit card, calling it “sexist” for offering his wife a credit limit 20 times lower than his own.

The allegations spread like wildfire, with Hansson stressing that artificial intelligence – now widely used to make lending decisions – was to blame. “It does not matter what the intent of individual Apple reps are, it matters what THE ALGORITHM they’ve placed their complete faith in does. And what it does is discriminate. This is fucked up.”

While Apple and its underwriters Goldman Sachs were ultimately cleared by US regulators of violating fair lending rules last year, it rekindled a wider debate around AI use across public and private industries.

Politicians in the European Union are now planning to introduce the first comprehensive global template for regulating AI, as institutions increasingly automate routine tasks in an attempt to boost efficiency and ultimately cut costs.

That legislation, known as the Artificial Intelligence Act, will have consequences beyond EU borders, and like the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, will apply to any institution, including UK banks, that serves EU customers. “The impact of the act, once adopted, cannot be overstated,” said Alexandru Circiumaru, European public policy lead at the Ada Lovelace Institute.

Depending on the EU’s final list of “high risk” uses, there is an impetus to introduce strict rules around how AI is used to filter job, university or welfare applications, or – in the case of lenders – assess the creditworthiness of potential borrowers.

EU officials hope that with extra oversight and restrictions on the type of AI models that can be used, the rules will curb the kind of machine-based discrimination that could influence life-altering decisions such as whether you can afford a home or a student loan.

“AI can be used to analyse your entire financial health including spending, saving, other debt, to arrive at a more holistic picture,” Sarah Kocianski, an independent financial technology consultant said. “If designed correctly, such systems can provide wider access to affordable credit.”

But one of the biggest dangers is unintentional bias, in which algorithms end up denying loans or accounts to certain groups including women, migrants or people of colour.

Part of the problem is that most AI models can only learn from historical data they have been fed, meaning they will learn which kind of customer has previously been lent to and which customers have been marked as unreliable. “There is a danger that they will be biased in terms of what a ‘good’ borrower looks like,” Kocianski said. “Notably, gender and ethnicity are often found to play a part in the AI’s decision-making processes based on the data it has been taught on: factors that are in no way relevant to a person’s ability to repay a loan.”

Furthermore, some models are designed to be blind to so-called protected characteristics, meaning they are not meant to consider the influence of gender, race, ethnicity or disability. But those AI models can still discriminate as a result of analysing other data points such as postcodes, which may correlate with historically disadvantaged groups that have never previously applied for, secured, or repaid loans or mortgages.

And in most cases, when an algorithm makes a decision, it is difficult for anyone to understand how it came to that conclusion, resulting in what is commonly referred to as “black-box” syndrome. It means that banks, for example, might struggle to explain what an applicant could have done differently to qualify for a loan or credit card, or whether changing an applicant’s gender from male to female might result in a different outcome.

Circiumaru said the AI act, which could come into effect in late 2024, would benefit tech companies that managed to develop what he called “trustworthy AI” models that are compliant with the new EU rules.

Darko Matovski, the chief executive and co-founder of London-headquartered AI startup causaLens, believes his firm is among them.

The startup, which publicly launched in January 2021, has already licensed its technology to the likes of asset manager Aviva, and quant trading firm Tibra, and says a number of retail banks are in the process of signing deals with the firm before the EU rules come into force.

The entrepreneur said causaLens offers a more advanced form of AI that avoids potential bias by accounting and controlling for discriminatory correlations in the data. “Correlation-based models are learning the injustices from the past and they’re just replaying it into the future,” Matovski said.

He believes the proliferation of so-called causal AI models like his own will lead to better outcomes for marginalised groups who may have missed out on educational and financial opportunities.

“It is really hard to understand the scale of the damage already caused, because we cannot really inspect this model,” he said. “We don’t know how many people haven’t gone to university because of a haywire algorithm. We don’t know how many people weren’t able to get their mortgage because of algorithm biases. We just don’t know.”

Matovski said the only way to protect against potential discrimination was to use protected characteristics such as disability, gender or race as an input but guarantee that regardless of those specific inputs, the decision did not change.

He said it was a matter of ensuring AI models reflected our current social values and avoided perpetuating any racist, ableist or misogynistic decision-making from the past. “Society thinks that we should treat everybody equal, no matter what gender, what their postcode is, what race they are. So then the algorithms must not only try to do it, but they must guarantee it,” he said.

While the EU’s new rules are likely to be a big step in curbing machine-based bias, some experts, including those at the Ada Lovelace Institute, are pushing for consumers to have the right to complain and seek redress if they think they have been put at a disadvantage.

“The risks posed by AI, especially when applied in certain specific circumstances, are real, significant and already present,” Circiumaru said.

“AI regulation should ensure that individuals will be appropriately protected from harm by approving or not approving uses of AI and have remedies available where approved AI systems malfunction or result in harms. We cannot pretend approved AI systems will always function perfectly and fail to prepare for the instances when they won’t.”

Source: ‘Risks posed by AI are real’: EU moves to beat the algorithms that ruin lives

Commodification of EU citizenship: Will the EU ban ‘golden passports’?

More on EU debates and tightening:

Europe is not quite the same since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. European reaction to the war is in many ways strengthening the old seams of the EU project and, since its outbreak, one of the moral contradictions facing EU member states in recent years, the sale of citizenship, is now being tackled with much greater consensus.

Following the 2008 financial crisis, which hit southern European economies particularly hard, a number of countries, such as Portugal in 2012 and Spain in 2013, decided to set up schemes to enable the purchase of residence visas for “international investors”, that is, third-country nationals with sufficient purchasing power to secure the right to reside in the EU against payment, providing them with the key to full European citizenship within just a few years. Greece, Ireland, Italy, Malta and Cyprus soon went down the same route. They were followed not long after by the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia and even Luxembourg.

In countries such as Bulgaria, Malta and Cyprus, these ‘golden visa’ programmes, technically known as ‘residence by investment’ schemes (RBI), were accompanied by the so-called ‘golden passport’ programmes, which speed up the whole process and offer direct access to ‘citizenship by investment’ (CBI). After years of pressure from Brussels, Bulgaria and Cyprus have committed to ending CBI. Malta, however, has not, so it is still possible to buy an EU passport within a matter of a year.

“The main beneficiaries of both systems have been Chinese oligarchs and Russian oligarchs,” Spanish MEP and former justice minister Juan Fernando López Aguilar, who chairs the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, tells Equal Times. In many cases, he insists, “they are mafiosi and corrupt individuals who launder the wealth, illicitly acquired in their countries of origin, by buying the privilege of residing in Europe and acquiring property in Europe, which has nothing to do with investment, and much less with creating jobs – all they have to do is buy mansions, yachts and real estate, which is what they do.”

RBI programmes were defended at the time as a way of attracting investments into countries such as Spain and Portugal.

“In both cases they were adopted at the time of conservative governments, which [against a backdrop of economic crisis] introduced legislative measures to, in practice, make money from granting residence rights, even though they are not linked to any actual investment and there are no checks on that investment. So we are clearly faced with issues that impact on European money laundering legislation,” the MEP summarises.

In October 2020, at the request of the European Parliament, the European Commission referred Malta and Cyprus to the European Court of Justice, alleging that their CBI programmes violated several fundamental articles of EU law.

The European Parliament also called on the Commission in March 2022 to prepare legislation banning ‘golden passports’ (CBI) across the EU and to set very strict conditions on ‘golden visa’ (RBI) schemes, with “stringent background checks” on applicants. And, adds López Aguilar, “with mandatory checks against all the databases shared by the EU-LISA agency, which reports regularly to the committee I chair, so that not only people who acquire this residence permit, but also all their direct first-degree relatives can be examined, and with the express obligation to consult and notify all member states, so that they can raise objections [on a case-by-case basis] to any person seeking residence in another member state.”

Investment migration and due diligence

These schemes are not, however, a European invention. There is a whole network of companies specialising in advising wealthy individuals interested in paying for a visa or residence permit in the 30 or so countries around the world that offer them, from small island nations in the Caribbean to economic giants such as the US, the UK and Canada, where the first such programmes were launched in 1986.

It is from Canada that Eric Major, the ‘father’ of the Malta Individual Investor Programme originally hails. Now a founding member and CEO of one of these firms – Latitude RCBI Consultancy – he assured Equal Times that these CBI schemes are a very useful tool for small or economically distressed countries, and that it would be senseless to disregard that.

Major defends the Maltese CBI scheme as an example of how best to regulate so-called “migration by investment”, a global market that generated 21.4 billion euros between 2011 and 2019 through CBI and RBI schemes.

“The US is still the country that approves the most ‘golden visas’ at around 10,000 people a year, while Portugal approved about 1,500 last year, Spain about 1,000,” says Major. “Depending on the size of the family being considered, the cost (of Maltese citizenship) will typically range between €900,000 at the low end, and €1.2 to €1.3 million.” It is “an injection to the National Development and Social Fund,” he adds, which finances “schools, roads and hospitals”. Malta, he explains, receives some 400 applications a year, of which around 250 are approved. “That is around 250 families; that means less than 1,000 people a year. And in the grand scheme of things, that’s 1,000 people who give on average a million euros each. So, you have an island nation that receives €200 million a year with this programme and that is particularly transformative for a small country, and all the more so in a post-Covid world.”

For Major, whose views are fairly representative of those of the Investment Migration Council, what MEPs are raising “are absolutely acceptable issues and need to be addressed”, as “some countries are doing better than others”. He argues that Malta offers an example of what could be satisfactory controls, which were inspired by practices in the banking sector. He refers to this as “four-tier due diligence”, whereby the state has to verify the good moral character of the applicants and the provenance of the funds provided through recourse to international banking databases, the law enforcement agencies of the countries in which they have resided and reports from firms specialising in data verification and risk analysis – all paid for by each applicant as part of the conditions of the programme.

For the European Parliament, however, this is not enough. “Malta and Cyprus keep in place these tools that are supposed to attract foreign investment but [they] have inevitably led to corruption and the laundering of illicitly obtained capital, without the slightest doubt,” says López Aguilar, who hopes that the ECJ will ultimately invalidate these programmes “based on their incompatibility with European law.”

For citizenship scholar Dimitry Kochenov, professor at the Institute of Democracy at the Central European University (CEU) in Budapest, the possibility of such a ruling is not so clear. As he explains to Equal Times, in Europe “citizenship has always been regulated, by default, at the national level, and there is no legal basis for regulating it at the supranational level”, so he does not believe that CBI programmes could be banned. “With residence, it is different, because there is a legitimate legal basis in the treaties by which the EU can legislate to harmonise residence rules and laws in the member states.”

Kochenov, himself a Dutch citizen of Russian origin, fears that the European Parliament’s measures against Russian beneficiaries of these programmes may be counterproductive. “The majority of the oligarchs on the sanctions list did not receive their European passports by investment, because there are plenty of other fully lawful ways,” he explains, as seen with Roman Abramovich, who became Portuguese based on his descent from the Sephardic diaspora. And then there are those who “have acquired citizenship in Europe, or the Caribbean, or elsewhere, because they wanted to escape Putin’s regime rather than support it,” such as Pavel Durov, the creator of the messaging app Telegram, who after refusing to collaborate with the FSB was able to flee Russia by buying citizenship of the Caribbean micro-state of Saint Kitts & Nevis. In 2021, he also acquired Emirati and French citizenship.

“To say that every person who comes from Russia and naturalises in the EU is potentially suspect ignores the simple fact that Russia is not a democracy” and that “many of the people who flee the country need to naturalise elsewhere because there is simply no other way”, so “naturalisation precisely enables their fight with the regime and their opposition to the war in Ukraine”, insists Kochenov.

López Aguilar believes that “this has to be filtered on a case-by-case basis, with all the guarantees required,” so that no one can make wrongful claims. The European Parliament’s intention is not to act against legitimate migration, but to close the door to international criminals and corrupt individuals who have been exploiting these schemes in the EU. And the war is acting as “an accelerant” in this regard, prompting the European Commission to strongly defend and adopt the EP’s proposals to strictly regulate ‘migration by investment’. “If we want to hurt Putin, we have to hurt the Russian oligarchs,” he concludes. “And if we want to hurt the Russian oligarchs, we have to put an end to this.”

Source: Commodification of EU citizenship: Will the EU ban ‘golden passports’?

Bulgaria ends controversial ‘golden passports’ scheme

EU Parliament having an impact:

Bulgaria has abolished its controversial “golden passports” scheme offering citizenship of the EU member state in return for substantial investment, which had been criticised by Brussels.

The scheme made it possible for foreigners to acquire residency when they invested a minimum of 500,000 euros ($550,000) in Bulgaria, and citizenship when they invested one million euros ($1.1m).

The beneficiaries were primarily from Russia, China and the Middle East.

Bulgaria’s new government, which has made fighting corruption a key priority, had already urged parliament to discontinue the granting of such passports in January.

The decision by Bulgarian MPS on Thursday comes after the awarding of “golden passports” was again condemned by the European Parliament in the light of Western sanctions targetting Russian oligarchs over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Earlier this month, MEPs repeated their call on Bulgaria, Malta and Cyprus to scrap both “golden passports” and “golden visas”.

The European Commission has repeatedly called for the abolition of such schemes because they create an incentive for corruption and money laundering.

Full review

As part of the decision, MPs also authorised a full review of all passports granted since the scheme was launched in 2013.

According to the justice ministry, about 100 such passports have been awarded to date.

The previous interim administration had last year flagged concerns about possible irregularities in 47 cases.

Despite the decision, there will still be the option of acquiring a residence permit under the scheme.

Malta has also said it would suspend granting “golden passports” to Russians and Belarusians until further notice following the invasion of Ukraine.

According to the European Parliament, at least 130,000 people obtained a “golden passport” or a “golden visa” in the bloc between 2011 and 2019, generating 21.8 billion euros ($23.9bn) for the countries concerned.

Source: Bulgaria ends controversial ‘golden passports’ scheme

EU parliament demands end to ‘golden passports’ for Russians

Long overdue, not just for Russians:

The European Parliament has voted overwhelmingly to end the practice of EU countries selling citizenship and visas to rich individuals.

It comes in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with many wealthy Russians having received EU passports in exchange for significant investments.

Members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday voted 595 for, 12 against and with 74 abstentions to end the so called ‘golden passport’ schemes.

They are calling for an all out ban on the purchase of citizenship by 2025 but want significantly increased background checks to come into force immediately.

The vote is however not binding. It is now up to the European Commission to outline a detailed proposal of how to end the schemes and then the EU’s national government will have the final say on the matter.

“The system of golden passports and visas carries with it inherent risks of tax evasion, corruption and money laundering.” said Saskia Bricmont MEP, a Green MEP from Belgium. “For too long oligarchs, criminals and corrupt politicians have had the ability to buy their way into Europe and launder their cash, image and identities.”

Malta, Cyprus and Bulgaria are the EU countries which have run the most lucrative golden passportschemes.

It is estimated that in the eight-year period until 2019, over €20 billion of investments came into EU countries in this manner.

“The time of asking national governments nicely is over,” said Dutch MEP Sophie In’t Veldt during the European Parliament debate. “[We need] the total complete abolition of this procedure, not simply to reduce it but to completely eliminate it.”

Members of the European Parliament accepted in the report that the move would lead to shortfalls in national budgets and allowed for a phased out approach.

Values for sale

The report into the golden passports has been moving through the European Parliament for a while but came into focus when the schemes were specifically mentioned in a joint EU statement alongside the leaders of France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States, in the immediate hours after Russian invaded in Ukraine.

It is unknown exactly how many Russian citizens have received an EU passports through the schemes, but in April 2021 a leak of documents suggested Malta was giving out passports in exhange for investments of around €910,000 ($1 million) and that the income amounted to €432 million the country’s 2018 budget.

When that leak came out, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said “European values are not for sale.”

Gaining an EU passport allows the bearer to travel freely within the EU’s border-free Schengen area, to access healthcare in all EU member states, to live and work anywhere, and also to enjoy the tax situation in that country’s jurisdiction.

Damage done

Last minute amendments to the European Parliament’s report saw EU lawmakers demand an immediate end of the schemes for Russians – other nationalities who profit from them like Saudis and Chinese would be included in the phase out.

Many experts warn that while the move comes alongside the cutting sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin and the oligarchs who prop him up, those who already have the passports cannot be kicked out.

“The damage is done” Jacob Kirkegaard said senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund told DW. “But at least the war finally may have shamed the relevant national governments into ending this corrupt practice”

EU Commissioner Didier Reynders believes the EU’s position against selling passports is clear

The European Commission, which drafts EU law, rejects the need for new rules to end the golden passport schemes, believing the current legal position in the EU against them is clear.

EU Justice Commission Didier Reynders told the house in Strasbourg that country’s should check the passports which have already been issued and pointed to legal proceedings which were started against Malta and Cyprus in 2020 as evidence that Brussels was already acting to end the schemes.

Source: EU parliament demands end to ‘golden passports’ for Russians

EU Targets Golden Visas in Clampdown on Dirty Money

Long overdue:

European Union lawmakers voted to limit so-called golden visas, as countries across the region clamp down on cash-for-passport programs.

Wednesday’s European parliament vote, which passed with a 595 to 12 majority, aims to ban “golden passports” and set up EU-level regulation on visas that includes stronger background checks on applicants and the source of their wealth. After the vote, the parliament expects the European Commission to propose legislation to standardize programs across the common area.

“The commission has a duty now to act,” MEP Sophie In’t Veld said during a press conference in Strasbourg ahead of the vote. “The whole situation with the war in Ukraine has again put spotlight on the problem of people buying passports, buying residency, buying access to the EU.”

Parliament wants the Commission to come up with a legislative proposal that will ban golden passports, phasing them out by 2025 while regulating golden visas to ensure that investments flow into the real economy. Lawmakers are also asking for stringent background checks, including on family members and on the origin of funds. In addition, the parliament called on the EU Commission to ban Russian nationals who are subject to EU sanctions from all so-called residence-by-investment schemes.

European lawmakers also want to put pressure on third countries, such as Panama or Saint Kitts & Nevis, to abolish visa schemes that allow people who receive the documents to travel freely across the EU.

Thirteen member states currently have programs that allow citizens of non-EU countries to acquire an EU passport or residency permit in exchange for an investment such as real estate or bonds. Without any European-wide rules in place, the eligibility requirements vary greatly across the region, with the minimum investment ranging from 127,000 euros ($140,000) in Bulgaria to 1.2 million euros in the Netherlands. The golden visa programs have attracted about 3.5 billion euros per year from 2016 to 2019, according to European Parliament research.

In 2020, the European Commission opened legal action against Cyprus and Malta for their cash-for-passports schemes which grant EU citizenship to investors “without a genuine link” to the country.  Bulgaria, which also has a citizenship-by-investment scheme, has tabled a draft bill to end it.

Member states including Portugal, Greece and the Czech Republic have halted the issuance of visas to Russian nationals in light of the war in Ukraine. Last month, the U.K. scrapped its investor visa scheme to crack down on money laundering. Bulgaria also moved in that direction with a bill to drop golden passports altogether.

“We consider that operating investor citizenship schemes that systematically offer citizenship in exchange for pre-determined payments and investments, without a genuine link with the Member States concerned, violates EU law,” the commission said in a statement.

Source: EU Targets Golden Visas in Clampdown on Dirty Money

EU looks to suspend Vanuatu from visa-free travel list over ‘citizenship for sale’ scheme

Of note. Welcome belated crackdown:

The European Commission on Wednesday proposed suspending visa-free travel between the bloc and the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu. The move, which would be a global first, is aimed at curbing the practice of offering “golden passports.”

In Vanuatu, foreigners can obtain citizenship and a passport in exchange for a minimum investment of $130,000 in the country. This in turn grants them easier access to other nations, including the 27 countries that make up the European Union.

The European Commission had issued a warning that it would take this step if Vanuatu did not alter its investment-for-citizenship program. The proposal now goes to individual EU member states for approval.

If the Commission proposal is adopted, it would end visa-free travel for anyone who has acquired Vanuatu citizenship since 2015. The ban will be dropped if the government amends the rules, the Commission said.

In the proposal, the EU executive pointed to the extremely risky nature of the scheme, arguing that it accepted essentially all applicants without sufficient screening, despite some appearing in Interpol’s security databases.

Cyprus, Malta also in hot water

The Commission said it is currently monitoring similar programs or planned schemes in several other countries, including Caribbean islands and the eastern European nations of Albania, Moldova, and Montenegro.

Similar programs in Cyprus and Malta, both EU members, are currently facing legal challenges from Brussels.

Source: EU looks to suspend Vanuatu from visa-free travel list over ‘citizenship for sale’ scheme

Poland Gets Support From Europe on Tough Borders

Good example of “weaponization” of refugees:

The migration crisis of 2015, when millions of migrants and asylum seekers surged over Europe’s borders, nearly tore apart the European Union. Many members offered asylum to the refugees; others, like Poland and Hungary, wanted no part of it.

Six years later, the current standoff at the border of Poland and Belarus has echoes of that crisis, but this time, European officials insist that member states are united when it comes to defending Europe’s borders and that uncontrolled immigration is over.

What is different, the Europeans say, is that this crisis is entirely manufactured by the dictator of Belarus, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, as a response to sanctions that the Europeans imposed on his country in the face of a stolen election and a vicious repression of domestic dissent.

“This area between the Poland and Belarus borders is not a migration issue, but part of the aggression of Lukashenko toward Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, with the aim to destabilize the E.U.,” Ylva Johansson, the European commissioner for home affairs, said in an interview over the summer.

The crisis began in late August, when growing groups of migrants, mostly from the Middle East, began massing at the borders of Poland, Latvia and Lithuania, shepherded there by Belarus. That movement has now become much larger, with at least 4,000 or more men, women and children trapped in the freezing cold, without proper shelter or toilets, between Belarus and its neighbors.

Both Poland and Lithuania declared states of emergency and fortified their borders, while Belarusian forces have in some cases aided the migrants in breaking through. The border regions have been shut to journalists and aid workers, but upsetting videos and pictures of the migrants facing barbed wire have been distributed, often by Belarus itself.

On Wednesday, the German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, called Mr. Lukashenko’s tactics a “cynical power play” and said that blackmail must not be allowed to succeed. In Washington the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, met President Biden and emerged to say that what was transpiring on the Belarus border is “a hybrid attack, not a migration crisis.”

Source: Poland Gets Support From Europe on Tough Borders