The European Parliament has overwhelmingly voted to call for a ban on citizenship-by-investment schemes in the European Union, calling on the Commission to adopt new legislation. 

The results, which were announced on Wednesday evening during a parliamentary session in Strasbourg, saw 595 of 681 MEPs vote in favour of the resolution. 

Only 12 members of the house voted against the motion, while 74 abstained. 

All four Maltese Labour Party MEPs, Alex Agius Saliba, Josiane Cutajar, Cyrus Engerer and Alfred Sant, voted against, making them the only members of the S&D parliamentary group to do so. 

The eight other MEPs who voted against the resolution were Hynek Blaško and Marcel de Graaff from the Identity and Democracy Group; unattached MEPs  Francesca Donato, Mislav Kolakušić, Ioannis Lagos and Miroslav Radačovský; as well as Pereira Sandra and Pimenta Lopes from the Left. 

The resolution, which came after a report by Dutch Renew Europe MEP Sophie Int’ Veld, calls on the European Commission to propose comprehensive legislation to regulate various aspects of residence-by-investment schemes before the end of its current mandate. 

The aim would be to harmonise procedures and strengthen the fight against organised crime, money laundering, corruption and tax evasion. 

MEPs also voted to have targeted revisions of existing EU legal acts that would serve to dissuade member states from establishing such schemes and strengthening anti-money laundering legislation. 

In a press conference on Wednesday, In 't Veld said despite the obstacles, the Commission should find ways to stop member states from operating such schemes. 

"These schemes are letting in very unsavoury and shady individuals. Is it unfair to ask Malta to scrap the scheme? I don’t know. Is it fair for Malta, or other countries, to create that risk to the EU? I don’t think so. It's very difficult for small countries whose revenue streams depend on this... I understand it is painful but it is not fair to European citizens, and Ukrainians at this point," the MEP, who serves as rapporteur on the issue, said. 

She added that the Maltese government’s decision to suspend the scheme for Russian and Belarussian nationals confirmed how problematic it is. 

"We should not only stop the processing of new applications but also look at those already granted. We have to rely on the Russian authorities to provide us with information for due diligence, how do we trust the information? Every effort should be made to ensure that Russian oligarchs do not benefit from golden passports," she said. 

After initially defending the scheme, insisting it is not a golden passport scheme, the government bowed to international pressure and banned Russian and Belarussian citizens from applying for citizenship-by-investment schemes after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, citing an inability to carry out effective due diligence. 

Prime Minister Robert Abela has argued that the decision was not a u-turn but rather proof that the authorities are serious about their due diligence obligations. 

Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, EP President Roberta Metsola said that stopping the sale of passports must be part of an action plan to divorce Europe from Russian influence. 

Two US congressmen have also presented a bill that seeks to ban countries that sell citizenship by investment from the country’s Visa Waiver Program.  

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