BERLIN — In a single week in October, more than 450 people seeking a better life in Europe died as the boats they crowded onto went down in the Mediterranean.
On Tuesday, the island nation Malta clearly noted that if people are dying to get in, then citizenship has a decent market price. So they set one. The Maltese Parliament narrowly passed a law allowing non-Maltese to purchase citizenship for 650,000 euro, or about $870,000.
Buying Maltese citizenship, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat was noted as having told the Maltese Independent, brings with it all the normal privileges: Voting, or a Maltese passport, for instance.
Or, and this is the big one, the ability to freely travel or move to other European Union nations.
Maltese citizenship, after all, is European Union citizenship.
And each year hundreds, and even thousands, die trying to make it into the European Union to beg for asylum. Those routes, however, are far more dangerous, and much cheaper, usually costing less than $5,000 a person.
The Independent notes that “the government assured that the scheme would bring about a good amount of revenue while the Opposition accused the government of prostituting Malta for the paltry sum of €650,000 for each passport.”
Although, it’s technically not for each passport: Those buying citizenship get a discount when they buy in bulk. The original one costs $870,000, but a spouse and kids under 18 are then in for $33,500 each. And parents older than 55 and unmarried children between 18 and 25 can get citizenship for $67,000.
The government actually estimates about $40 million a year in new revenue.
They also note that there will be extensive criminal background checks before citizenship is granted. Still, the newspaper had Muscat saying “that Parliament can revoke the scheme, but it could not repeal citizenships that have already been granted under it, unless there are serious grounds to do so due to some sort of misconduct by the individual.”
The bill passed through the Parliament by a 37 to 30 vote. Simon Busuttil, an opposition leader, called it a “black day for democracy.”
According to other press reports, Muscat’s counter is that the new law will attract “high-value” people. The expectation is that those who pony up the money for citizenship will invest in Malta. The reality is that once they have Maltese citizenship, they could chose to make their live anywhere within the European Union.
The fears are just emerging, but run the gamut, from criminal and terror elements able to find the money and hide the past of those they send into Europe, to a flood of soccer players from South America and Africa now able to circumvent labor laws favoring E.U. citizens.
Malta expects to welcome about 45 new citizens a year through the program, and get a very manageable 200 to 300 applications each year.
According to press reports, however, while the law is drawing criticism, the government insists other E.U. nations are working on similar programs, noting the residency programs of Greece, Spain and Hungary.