EU citizenship cannot be traded as a commodity, the majority of speakers who want to end the “golden passports” schemes currently in place in some member states, including Malta, said during a plenary debate in the European Parliament on Thursday.

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 Cyprus, which also operates a similar scheme. Cyprus said it will be scrapping its programme.

During the debate with Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders, MEPs stressed the inherent risks such programmes give rise to, namely money laundering, tax evasion and corruption. They insisted that Europe must not have “a fast-track entrance for criminals”.

MEPs underlined that granting EU citizenship to third-country nationals without proper checks and transparency has negative consequences in other member states, eroding mutual trust and undermining common values.

Several speakers acknowledged the Commission’s decision to open infringement procedures against Cyprus and Malta, though some complained it had taken too long to act.

Some MEPs noted that the share of revenues from these programmes is significant for countries such as Cyprus, while many argued that EU values and rights should not be for sale.

In a statement, the European Peoples’ Party said that, after years of delay, the European Commission is now ready to step up and take action against these schemes in the case of Cyprus and Malta.

“Offering citizenship for cash is undermining the very basis of our democracy, and such practices in one Member States are affecting all 27 EU members,” it said.

It added that truly international efforts to stop citizenship-for-cash regimes became possible because of the efforts of a large number of dedicated and courageous investigative journalists from a number of countries.

“We are truly grateful for their work. They revealed how people who were allowed to stay within the EU were causing a security threat. Many of the beneficiaries of these schemes have built up their wealth through money laundering and corruption or they are key members of oppressive dictatorships.

It has been revealed how corrupt systems were built up to smoothen the applications of those who were ready to pay extra, including neglecting the necessary security checks.”

Cross-party members of the media working group are calling the attention of the European Commission to make sure it follows up on all the journalists’ revelations on this matter.

The EPP said murdered Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was among those who had worked to reveal the corruption behind the structure of golden visas.

“It is our duty to respect her memory and support the journalists who were able to reveal the facts about this threat to our democracy. Democracy needs protection and democracy needs independent investigative journalism,” they said.

The statement was signed by David Casa and Ramona Strugariu, co-chairs of the working group, and Magdalena Adamowicz, Irena Joveva, Alive Kuhnke, Dace Melbārde, and Viola von Cramon-Taubadel.

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