EU on the ropes: Bloc’s chief lambasted over ‘visas for sale’ controversy

Malta: German MEP calls for 'overdue' freedom of journalism

German Green Party MEP Sven Giegold launched his attack after writing to President of the European Commission Ms von der Leyen, as well as Didier Reynders, European Commissioner for Justice, to raise the issue, only to be told the Commission would not be launching proceedings in relation the matter. Mr Giegold, referring to the system which he referred to as “golden passports” and “golden visas”, said both Cyprus and Malta had begun to grant citizenships for money in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

In the case of Cyprus, an investment of £2million in a property or a company, together with the deposit of €200,000 in two state funds, was deemed sufficient, with the scheme estimated to have generated roughly £6billion in additional income.

While the EU had recently launched infringement proceedings against both countries in relation to the passports aspect, the Commission has indicated it will not be doing likewise with relation to visas, a point emphasised by both Ms von der Leyen and Mr Reynders in their replies to him.

Mr Giegold, his party’s financial and economic policy spokesperson, said: “It is a mistake that Ursula von der Leyen does not want to initiate infringement proceedings against member states who sell visas.

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Von der Leyen does not do justice to her role as guardian of the EU treaties

Sven Giegold

“Von der Leyen does not do justice to her role as guardian of the EU treaties.

“Doing nothing is an open invitation to criminals.

“Golden passports and golden visas are equally contrary to European law and must be punished equally.

“Visas are not a commodity. Civil rights come to depend on one’s wallet if they can be bought.

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“The sale of visas violates the values and spirit of European cooperation.

“Individual countries make money selling visas, but the rights apply to the entire Schengen area.”

Neither was it just Malta or Cyprus cashing in, Mr Giegold said.

For example, Portugal alone had so far issued golden visas to more than 25,000 people, earning more than €5.5billion, he claimed, with Greece issuing them to another 25,000 people.

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He added: “We know of another 5,500 golden visas to main applicants in Spain. Portugal and Spain make profits from rights which are valid throughout Europe.

“It is a sign of hope that France and Germany do not participate in this questionable source of income.

“But all member states are exposed to the security risks that golden visas entail throughout the EU.

“Golden visas open the door for criminals.

“They can easily launder their dirty money in the EU and avoid taxes.

“The EU Commission should immediately initiate infringement proceedings against EU member states with visa sales programmes.”

In her reply, Ms von der Leyen confirmed infringement proceedings had been initiated against both Cyprus and Malta on October 20 in the case of passports, or investor citizenship schemes, but not in respect of visas, or investor residence schemes.

She explained: “As far as investor residence schemes, or ‘golden visas ’, are concerned, I agree with you that such programmes raise very similar concerns in terms of security, money laundering and corruption, even if they do not directly result in the acquisition of EU citizenship.

“In view of these inherent risks, Member States should carry out the necessary checks and apply rigorous and transparent criteria to identify and combat criminality and corruption. Unfortunately, the risks inherent in residence schemes are not always sufficiently mitigated by the measures taken by the Member States.

“In this context, the Commission continues to closely monitor investor residence schemes and their application, to ensure compliance with EU law.

“In particular, we want to verify that Member States carry out all obligatory border and security checks in line with EU legislation prior to the issuance of any residence permit.”

Express.co.uk has contacted the European Commission to ask for a response to Mr Giegold’s comments.

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