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The European Parliament has voted to abolish golden passports and introduce new visa regulations.

In a press release, the European Parliament voted for "new common rules to address the many problems linked to ‘citizenship/residence by investment' schemes":

MEPs adopted a legislative initiative report on March 9th, requesting that the Commission present a proposal by the end of its mandate.


During Monday's plenary debate, the Commission, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States pledged to limit wealthy Russians with ties to the government's access to 'golden passports.'


The text was approved by a vote of 595 to 12 with 74 abstentions.

'Golden passports' should be banned


Citizenship by investment (CBI) schemes, in which third-country nationals obtain citizenship rights in exchange for a sum of money, are criticized by Parliament as undermining the essence of EU citizenship. The practice, which is in place in Malta, Bulgaria, and Cyprus, is described by Parliament as "free riding" in which member states sell something that was never intended to become a commodity. MEPs claim that applications have been accepted despite the fact that requirements have not been met, and they demand that these schemes be phased out due to the risks they pose.'


'Golden visas' to be regulated


Parliament requests EU rules to help combat money laundering, corruption, and tax evasion, citing the less severe risks posed by "residence by investment" (RBI) schemes:


- strict background checks (including checks on applicants' family members and sources of funds), mandatory checks against EU databases, and vetting procedures in third countries; reporting obligations for member states, including a "notification and consultation" scheme that allows other member states to object; and requirements for minimum physical residence (for applicants) and active involvement, quality, added value, and contribution to the economy (for their investments).


No passports or visas to be retained by Russian oligarchs


The European Parliament applauds the relevant member states' commitment to limit the sale of citizenship to Russians with ties to the Russian government, and calls for all CBI and RBI schemes in the EU to immediately exclude Russian applicants. MEPs call on EU governments to review all approved applications from recent years to ensure that "no Russian individual with financial, business or other links to the Putin regime retains his or her citizenship and residency rights" They also want the Commission to prohibit Russian nationals who are subject to EU sanctions from participating in any RBI schemes.


The role of intermediaries in a fragmented system


MEPs criticize both types of schemes for lacking comprehensive security checks and vetting procedures, and argue that it should not be possible to file multiple applications in different member states. Member states should not rely on non-state actors to conduct checks. Until 'golden passports' are phased out, and indefinitely for 'golden visas,' Parliament calls for an EU levy of a meaningful percentage on the investments made. It also requests that the Commission put pressure on third countries that benefit from visa-free travel to the EU to do the same.


Parliament calls for a ban on intermediaries' involvement in CBIs and a "strict and binding regulation" for their role in RBIs, which should include sanctions, citing the fact that intermediaries in these schemes are neither transparent nor held accountable.

Sophia in 't Veld (Renew, NL), the rapporteur, said: "These schemes only serve to provide a back door into the EU for shady individuals who cannot enter in broad daylight. It is time we closed that door, so that Russian oligarchs and other persons with dirty money stay out. Member state governments have refused to address the problem, claiming it was not an EU matter. Given what is currently happening, they cannot duck this issue anymore."


Steps to take next


The Commission must either prepare a legislative proposal or explain why it chose not to.


Background


Between 2011 and 2019, at least 130 000 people in the EU benefited from CBI/RBI schemes, generating over €21.8 billion in revenue for the countries involved. Malta, Bulgaria (where the government has tabled a draft law to end the scheme), and Cyprus all have CBI schemes (which is only processing applications submitted prior to November 2020, all of which have already been examined, according to the Cypriot government). The RBI has schemes in place in twelve member states that are based on differing amounts and investment options.

By fLEXI tEAM

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