On Monday March 28th, the European Commission issued a recommendation urging Member States to repeal any existing investor citizenship schemes (also known as golden passports) and to ensure strong checks are in place to address the risks posed by investor residence schemes. The Commission also urged them to assess whether Russian oligarchs linked to the Kremlin or who support the war in Ukraine should be stripped of citizenship rights.
According to the US’s Public Broadcasting Service, the European Commission launched infringement procedures against Cyprus and Malta in 2020 about their golden passports schemes, and the Russian war in Ukraine has put an increased focused on the topic. The recommendation forms part of the Commission’s broader policy to take determined action on these schemes. The current context of the Russian aggression against Ukraine is once again highlighting these risks.
European values are not for sale. We consider that the sale of citizenship through ‘golden passports’ is illegal under EU law and poses serious risks to our security. It opens the door to corruption, money laundering and tax avoidance.Didier Reynders, Commissioner for Justice and Consumers
Some Russian or Belarusian nationals who are subject to sanctions or are significantly supporting the war in Ukraine might have acquired EU citizenship or privileged access to the EU, including to travel freely in the Schengen area, under these schemes. To address these immediate risks, the Commission is also recommending today that Member States assess whether citizenship granted under a ‘golden passport’ scheme to Russian or Belarusian nationals on an EU sanctions list in connection to the war in Ukraine should be withdrawn.
Residence permits granted under an investor residence scheme to Russian or Belarusian nationals subject to sanctions should be immediately withdrawn, following an individual assessment and in accordance with the principle of proportionality, fundamental rights and Member States’ national law. These measures should apply to Russian or Belarusian nationals significantly supporting the war in Ukraine.
The right to travel freely within the Schengen area is among our greatest assets. We need strong checks to make sure this right is not abused. Golden residence permits issued to Russians and Belarusians under EU sanctions should be revoked.Ylva Johansson, Commissioner for Home Affairs
The Commission’s recommendation stresses that:
- Any Member State still operating investor citizenship schemes needs to terminate them immediately. Such schemes are not compatible with the principle of sincere cooperation and with the concept of EU citizenship enshrined in the EU treaties. On 20 October 2020, the Commission opened infringements against two Member States regarding their investor citizenship scheme. In addition, the Commission has been urging another Member State to proceed with ending its scheme. Two Member States abolished their schemes in the meantime or are in the process of doing so.
- The Member States concerned should carry out assessments in order to determine whether citizenship previously granted to Russian or Belarusian nationals subject to sanctions or significantly supporting the war in Ukraine should be withdrawn. While carrying out the assessments, the Member States concerned are to take into account the principles established by the Court of Justice of the European Union regarding the loss of EU citizenship.
Investor residence schemes raise inherent security, money laundering, tax evasion and corruption risks for Member States and for the EU as a whole. Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has once again underlined these risks.
In the recommendation, the Member States are asked to:
- Establish and conduct strict checks before issuing any residence permit by investment: Member States should take all necessary measures to prevent investor residence schemes from posing security, money laundering, tax evasion and corruption risks. This includes establishing and carrying out checks related to the conditions of residence and security before issuing such residence permits, and verifying whether residence is continuous.
- Immediately withdraw or refuse the renewal of the residence permits granted under an investor residence scheme to Russian or Belarusian nationals who are subject to EU sanctions in connection to the war in Ukraine, following an assessment. The same measure should also apply to those significantly supporting the war in Ukraine or other related activities of the Russian government or Lukashenko regime breaching international law.
- Suspend the issuance of residence permits under investor residence schemes to all Russian and Belarusian nationals.
All measures need to be applied in compliance with the principle of proportionality, with fundamental rights and with Member States’ national law.
The recommendation is only one element of the Commission’s overall policy to take determined action on both citizenship and residence investor schemes. The Commission may take additional action in the future as required. It is for Member States to implement today’s recommendation. The Commission asks the Member States concerned to report on the implementation of the recommendation put forward today by the end of May, and keep the Commission regularly informed afterwards.