EU takes Malta to court over passport-for-pay program

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union’s executive branch said Thursday that it is taking Malta to court over its golden passport policy that allows wealthy people to buy EU citizenship, even after the small island country suspended the program for citizens of Russia and Belarus.

The European Commission launched infringement procedures against Malta and Cyprus in 2020 about their golden passports programs, and Russia’s war against Ukraine has shone an increasingly bright spotlight on the policies.

The commission said in a statement that “granting EU citizenship in return for pre-determined payments or investments without any genuine link to the member state concerned is not compatible with the principle of sincere cooperation” enshrined in EU treaties.

It noted Malta’s decision to suspend its program for Russian and Belarusian nationals, but said “while this was a positive step, Malta continues to operate the scheme for all other nationalities and has not expressed any intention to end it.”

The European Commission also said that Cyprus stopped processing all such citizenship applications in July 2021, and that it “is closely analyzing the situation before deciding on any next steps.” Bulgaria also had a similar program but abolished it in April.

The commission, which proposes EU laws and monitors to ensure that they are respected, referred the matter to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg for a hearing at a yet to be determined date.

Obtaining citizenship in one of the 27 member countries also bestows EU citizenship and with it, the right to free movement and access to the EU’s internal market as well as to vote and be elected in European and national elections.

Malta’s golden passport program was among the topics investigative reporter Daphne Caruana Galizia reported on before she was blown up by a car bomb just after she left her home on the island nation in 2017.

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