The European Commission on Tuesday formally launched infringement procedures against Malta by issuing letters of formal notice regarding its “golden passport” scheme.

Similar action was also taken against Cyrus, which also operates a similar scheme. 

A letter of formal notice, the first step in infringement procedures, will be launched against Malta.

The commission says that by selling EU passports, Malta departs from the common basic understanding that nationality is the expression of a special relationship of allegiance, solidarity and a genuine link between the state and its people.

The commission said that the granting of nationality – and thereby EU citizenship – in exchange for a pre-determined payment or investment and without a genuine link with the member states concerned, is not compatible with the principle of sincere cooperation enshrined in the EU treaty and undermines the essence of EU citizenship.

European Commission president Ursula Von der Leyen set her sights on passport sales during her State of the European Union speech in September, insisting “European values are not for sale”.

Malta’s scheme generated more than €800 million for the government between its launch in 2014 and last July and has been credited with helping the country stay afloat during the novel coronavirus economic crisis.

The government recently announced an overhaul of the scheme. Individuals can no longer apply for citizenship without first being residents here for at least a year. The plan is for 400 citizenship applications to be approved per year. The new scheme is capped at 1,500 successful applicants.

In a tweet announcing the action, European Commission vice president for values and transparency, Vera Jourova, said the action was launched “because there cannot be a weak link in EU efforts to curb corruption and money laundering. EU passports cannot be for sale.”

Cyprus said last week it would scrap its programme, which has brought the island some €7 billion, from next month after an undercover TV investigation exposed abuses.

Asked to react to the EU announcement, Prime Minister Robert Abela on Monday told journalists they could thank the Nationalist Party's MEPs for choosing to repeatedly attack their country instead of defending it.

“We will be defending Malta. Had it not been for the contributions from that programme, which we are in the process of winding down, we would probably not have been in a position to present a budget of this scale,” Abela said with reference to the budget presented on Monday.

The Nationalist MEPs on Tuesday took to Twitter to react to the Prime Minister's claim that the European Union was taking action against Malta's passport scheme thanks to them.

The Prime Minister is totally out of his depth when he claims that MEPs are responsible for the initiation of EU legal action against Malta over the controversial “golden passport” schemes, MEP Roberta Metsola said.

MEP David Casa added it was pathetic for the Prime Minister to always blame someone else.

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