When I lived in Malta, I was rather surprised by how much was on sale. When I wanted to purchase a bus ticket from the vending machine, it sometimes happened that a helpful bus driver came up to me and sold me a “spare” ticket for less than the official price. Some of my acquaintances were trading in everything from receipts (for VAT fraud) to residence permits. I heard that you could also buy building permits, hunting licences, mobile phone access for prison inmates, government jobs and an extra goal in a football match. I personally only got a police conduct certificate (2.50 EUR), which I could use for a gun license in Germany, and a Maltese ID card (free of charge), both of them completely legally of course.
“But who wants to move to this tiny island in the Mediterranean?”, I hear you ask. Well, that’s the thing: you don’t need to move to Malta under the new citizenship-for-sale scheme. There is no requirement to live or to invest the amount in Malta. You only need to pay. (Preferably in cash, I assume.) As Malta is a member state of the European Union, you will get EU citizenship with it. Buy one, get one free. Anyone with the necessary money will then be able to reside in any of the 28 EU countries, travel freely between them and vote in municipal and European elections.
My first reaction was one of shock and horror, especially because I remember the “our country is too crowded already” arguments from my time in Malta. They were raised each time a boat with refugees was on its way from Africa. Poor people fleeing famine are apparently less welcome than shady businesspeople. In extreme cases, the warlords or arms dealers fuelling civil wars in Africa will buy Maltese citizenship, while their victims will be turned back by the Maltese Navy – or will die on the sea.
One the other hand, I have to admit that in this respect, Malta is at least honest. Most countries view citizenship and residency applications of individuals with lots of money more favourably than those of poor chaps. Although no country in the EU is as brazen as Malta, giving away citizenship without any residency or investment requirement, if you have 650,000 EUR that you don’t need, you can effectively get the citizenship of a large number of countries. In the EU, Austria, Hungary, Portugal and Ireland are other examples. I work as an immigration advisor for people interested in obtaining German citizenship, and although Germany has no similar scheme, it still makes it much easier if you are wealthy, whether you use your funds for an investment in Germany or to buy real estate or to attend university for a few years, after which you can apply for German citizenship, or to “convince” someone to get married to you. People without money don’t have these options, or at least not as easily.
I have two naive hopes:
- I would hope that this reciprocal generosity between Malta and rich applicants will make it harder for Malta to argue that the island is overcrowded when the next boat with half-starving, half-dead refugees will arrive. Also, only 650,000 EUR from one new citizen will go a long way in providing help for refugees in need.
- As the other EU countries are understandably pissed about Malta selling out, maybe this will push the issue of a true European citizenship and European immigration policy onto the agenda.
But I also have two fears, which are probably more realistic:
- The Maltese government has teamed up with some shady consultancy, which will implement the passport-for-cash programme. Either the Maltese government thought its own civil servants are too corrupt (because evaluating the simple question whether somebody has paid 650,000 EUR can hardly be a question of competence) or – and this is my guess – they want to put a third party between them and the applicants, so that they can later deny all responsibility. I can already smell the corruption now.
- EU citizenship not only comes with the right to take part in elections, but also to stand for election. I wouldn’t be surprised if more millionaires and billionaires will move to Europe and try to influence politics. For a Russian oligarch or a Saudi prince, European politics might be an entertaining and profitable hobby. And who knows, even Mr Berlusconi might make the move to Malta.