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EU parliament demands end to 'golden passports' for Russians

Jack Parrock
March 9, 2022

The European Parliament is demanding an end to the practice of countries selling EU citizenship.

Reisepass der Republik Zypern
Image: Hassan Mroue/AFP/Getty Images

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 passport schemes.

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.

Cyprus: Golden passports

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”

Didier Reynders
EU Commissioner Didier Reynders believes the EU's position against selling passports is clearImage: Johanna Geron/AP Photo/picture alliance

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.

Edited by: Andreas Illmer