Following the 2008 financial crisis, new kinds of investor schemes, known as golden visas and passports, have blossomed across Europe. Names and modalities differ from one Member State to the other, but objectives are the same: offering fast-track residency or even citizenship to third-country nationals in return for investments in the national economy. Although increased foreign investments in key economic sectors might be welcome, there has been overwhelming evidence that golden visa schemes have been more likely serving corrupt interests, rather than the common good.
Because the level of requirements is so low, these programmes offer an easy route for money launderers wishing to introduce substantial amounts of illicit cash to the market. Another characteristic of these schemes is that they essentially rely on their capacity to offer free access to the Schengen area, a benefit which is often advertised upfront as one of the key selling points. As such, the lack of transparency and checks over these schemes puts the EU as a whole at risk and undermines its core values and principles.
Recent revelations by Al-Jazeera regarding the Cypriot scheme, known as the Cyprus Papers and involving politicians at the highest level, the government of Cyprus announced the suspension of its passports scheme in its current form. This latest in a long line of scandals also prompted the European Commission to launch infringement procedures against Cyprus and Malta over apparent breaches of Union law in October 2020.
However, Cyprus and Malta are not the only countries where EU citizenship can be bought and the EU should adopt a more systemic and comprehensive approach. Bulgaria, Portugal and Austria have also schemes that can provide an indirect route to EU citizenship easily exploitable by corrupt individual.
TI EU has carried out landmark research and analysis into the risks posed by golden visa schemes for the integrity and security of the EU, and has been advocating since for the phasing out of risky golden visa schemes and the regulation of passport and visa sale in the future at EU level.