Citing security risks as well as the increased possibility of money laundering, tax evasion and corruption, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) is calling on member states to stop issuing investor visas to non-nationals.
To address the potential risks, the EESC is calling for minimum standards for due diligence and security checks and for the operational integrity of the schemes.
At the same time, it recommends that the Commission set up a coordination mechanism that foresees EU states to exchange information on successful and rejected applications for citizenship and residence in order to avoid “passport-shopping” or “visa-shopping” between jurisdictions by risky individuals.
The EESC backs a European Commission report released in January, which found that in many cases the so-called “golden visa schemes” posed a security threat, particularly due to the lack of transparency and poor cooperation.
The EESC is calling for an end to all existing schemes as soon as possible.
Greece is among some 20 states, including Bulgaria, Estonia, Ireland, Spain, France, Croatia, Italy, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and the UK –granting foreign nationals fast-track citizenship and/or residency rights in exchange for set investments, as well as instant Schengen Area access.
The Greek scheme grants five-year residence permits renewable for third country nationals who purchase, individually or through a legal entity, property in Greece valued at a minimum of 250,000 euros. Earlier this month, Greece’s development ministry said it was moving ahead with changes to a relevant bill that may include introducing a fluctuating minimum investment requirement aimed at boosting the property market in other regions across the country.
“The EESC is very worried about the promotion of EU rights and EU citizenship as a product for sale,” said Jean-Marc Roirant, representing the EESC.
Roirant went on to add that these schemes often do not comply with the fundamental rights underpinning European cooperation and insisted on the need to phase these out across the EU.
In 2018, the EU gained more than 6,000 new citizens and 100,000 new residents since 2008 due to golden visa schemes, attracting some 25 billion euros in foreign direct investment, a joint report issued by Transparency International and Global Witness found.
According to the EESC, risks include money laundering and corruption; lack of transparency may expose states and public officials to the risk of corruption; lack of transparency; lack of harmonized standards; tax evasion; volatile investment flows; socioeconomic risks resulting from price inflation on the property market; and political risks including the loss of trust in EU institutions or the reputation of EU citizenship.
The EESC also recommends that agents providing services to applicants be subject to EU anti-money-laundering rules, and is calling for clarification of the role of the private sector to include implementing an obligatory code of conduct, supervision of regulated professionals, and the establishment of a publicly accessible “Registry of Service Providers”.
At the same time, countries up for accession should not be allowed to run their own schemes when they join so as to avoid the launch of new golden visa programs.