The European Commission has sent a letter to Bulgaria expressing its concerns about the acquiring of citizenship by investment regime.
Brussels wants further details from Sofia. The Bulgarian government has one month to respond to the letter requesting additional information, after which the Commission will decide on the next steps.
On October 20, the European Commission took legal actions against Cyprus and Malta in connection with their investor citizenship schemes, also known as “golden passport” schemes.
The Commission considers that the granting of the citizenship of those Member States, and hence of the citizenship of the Union, in return for a predetermined payment or investment and without a real connection with the countries concerned, is incompatible with the principle of loyal cooperation enshrined in Article 4, paragraph 3 of the Treaty on European Union. This also undermines the integrity of the citizenship status of the Union provided for in Article 20 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union
Due to the nature of this citizenship, such schemes have implications for the Union as a whole. When a Member State grants citizenship, the person concerned automatically becomes an EU citizen and enjoys all rights related to that status, such as the right to free movement, reside and work within the EU or to vote in municipal elections, and in elections to the European Parliament.
As a result, the effects of acquiring citizenship by investment schemes are neither limited to the Member States that apply them nor neutral to other Member States and the EU as a whole.
The Commission considers that the granting of Union citizenship for predetermined payments or investments without a real link with the Member States concerned undermines the nature of Union citizenship.
The schemes for citizenship by investment allow the person concerned to acquire new citizenship on the basis of payment or investment only. These schemes differ from the schemes for acquiring the right of residence by investment (“golden visa”), which allow third-country nationals, subject to certain conditions, to obtain a residence permit in an EU country.
The conditions for acquiring and revoking national citizenship are set out in the national law of each Member State, with due regard for EU law. As the citizenship of a Member State is the only precondition for Union citizenship and access to the rights conferred by the Treaties, the Commission closely monitors the schemes for investors providing citizenship to the Member States.
The Commission has often expressed serious concerns about citizenship by investments schemes and some of the risks inherent in these schemes.
As stated in the Commission’s January 2019 report, these risks relate in particular to security, money laundering, tax evasion and corruption, and the Commission is monitoring broader issues related to compliance with EU law, arising from the schemes for granting citizenship and right of residence in exchange of investments.
In April 2020, the Commission sent a letter to the Member States concerned setting out its concerns and requesting further information on the schemes.
In a resolution adopted on 10 July 2020, the European Parliament reiterated its call on the Member States to abolish as soon as possible all existing schemes for citizenship by investment or residence by investment. As President Von der Leyen said in her speech on the State of the Union on 16 September 2020, “European values are not for sale”.