Image: The Guardian

This morning’s Times of Malta headline “European Parliament suggests taxing golden passports” might at first glance suggest that the European Parliament has changed its position about passport-selling schemes. The European Parliament’s position on passport-selling was adopted by a resolution that calls on the schemes to stop. For the Parliament to change its position a new resolution would need to happen, which has not happened.

The suggestion that the European Parliament has changed its position is a reflection of remarks made by passports-salesman-in-chief Alex Muscat who was quoted by Times of Malta referring to an internal report by the EP’s research office as a basis to reject the European Commission’s legal action against Malta over the scheme.

The report being referred to (linked here) is an academic exercise by the European Parliament Research Service that has considered five possible policy options on how the EU might deal with the problem of passports-selling. The EPRS is a “think tank” of researchers that provide policy options to elected Parliamentarians who then decide the position of the Parliament following debate and votes on resolutions or legislative instruments.

The first policy option proposed in this document is to retain the existing policy of the European Parliament, to have the schemes stopped.

The report itself reiterates that passport-selling schemes risk violating the principle of sincere cooperation between EU Member States, cheapen citizenship of the EU to a commodity, risk violating the principle of fairness, weaken due diligence and lack sufficient safeguards.

The option of taxing the schemes is listed in the document as a possible way of compensating European countries who don’t sell their passports but must still treat people who acquired passports from other European countries as if they were their own.

Another option listed by the report includes requiring countries running passport-selling schemes to only sell passports to people who live in their territory. Such a proposal would force a radical change to Malta’s scheme that is based on the unique offer that Maltese passports are sold to people who never lived and never mean to live here.

An academic analysis on what could be done if the schemes are not abolished altogether does not amount to a suggestion by the institution for whom the report has been written.

Malta’s government argues for the retention of the passport-selling scheme and insists it would defend the scheme if the European Commission escalates the matter to the European Court of Justice. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in a recent visit to Malta was quoted by Times of Malta saying that it is of utmost importance that Malta’s passport-selling scheme stops.