TALLINN - The European Commission on Wednesday presented the first thorough report on so-called golden passports and visas or investor citizenship and residence schemes in the European Union and warned against the dangers originating from them.
The report maps the existing practices and identifies certain risks such schemes imply for the European Union, in particular, as regards security, money laundering, tax evasion and corruption. A lack of transparency in how the schemes are operated and a lack of cooperation among member states further exacerbate these risks, the European Commission said in a press release.
"Legally residing in the EU and in the Schengen area comes with rights and privileges that should not be abused. Member States must at all times fully respect and apply existing obligatory checks and balances – and national investor residence schemes should not be exempt from that," EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos said.
"The work we have done together over the past years in terms of increasing security, strengthening our borders, and closing information gaps should not be jeopardized. We will monitor full compliance with EU law," the commissioner added.
Investor citizenship schemes allow a person to obtain a new nationality based on investment alone. In the EU, three member states, including Bulgaria, Cyprus and Malta, currently operate schemes that grant investors the nationality of these countries under conditions which are less strict than ordinary naturalization regimes, the European Commission said.
In these three member states, there is no obligation of physical residence for the individual, nor a requirement of other genuine connections with the country before obtaining citizenship.
Investor residence schemes, while different from citizenship schemes in the rights they grant, pose equally serious security risks to member states and the EU as a whole. A valid residence permit gives a third-country national the right to reside in the member state in question, but also to travel freely in the Schengen area. While EU law regulates the entry conditions for certain categories of third-country nationals, the granting of investor residence permits is currently not regulated at EU level and remains a national competence. Currently, 20 member states run such schemes: Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Ireland, Greece, Spain, France, Croatia, Italy, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and the United Kingdom.
Residence permits obtained by investment, with limited or no required physical presence of the investor in the member state in question, could have an impact on the application of and rights associated with the EU long-term residence status, and may even provide a fast-track to national and thereby EU citizenship.
These schemes are of common EU interest since every person that acquires the nationality of a member state will simultaneously acquire EU citizenship, the European Commission said.
The decision by one member state to grant citizenship in return for investment, automatically gives rights in relation to other member states, in particular free movement and access to the EU internal market to exercise economic activities as well as a right to vote and be elected in European and local elections. In practice, these schemes are often advertised as a means of acquiring Union citizenship, together with all the rights and privileges associated with it.