From: Alice Elizabeth Taylor
EU Commissioner for Justice: Albania Should Refrain from Selling Passports If It Wants to Join the EU

During a conference in a glitzy hotel in London last month, Prime Minister Edi Rama announced that he would be selling off Albanian citizenship to rich foreign investors.

As well as receiving an Albanian passport, recipients would receive a 10-year tax break and be able to travel to Europe visa-free, piggy-backing on Albania’s Schengen rights. The problem is that these schemes are widely condemned by the European Union, European Commission, MoneyVal, GRECO, and other international institutions due to heightened risks of money laundering, terrorism financing and other financial crimes.

In fact, in Malta, five ‘new’ Maltese citizens have been arrested in the last 12 months for crimes including embezzlement, money laundering, smuggling, and fraud, to the tune of billions of euros. Senior Maltese government officials including one implicated in the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, have also been accused of receiving kickbacks from passport sales, as well as in other countries with similar schemes such as Bulgaria and Cyprus.

Giving a speech to the audience who paid some GBP1,500 a ticket to be there, Rama made a joke out of Albania’s communist past and admitted he knew the decision would land him in hot water with the EU. Nonetheless, the partnership with Henley & Partners– concessionaires of cash-for-passport schemes in a number of countries with links to Cambridge Analytica, seems set to go ahead.

To find out more about what the implications of this scheme are for Albania’s international reputation, as well as how it may affect their EU accession process, Exit contacted EU Commissioner for Justice Vera Jourova who has called for such schemes to be banned.

What do you think about EU candidate countries that start cash-for-passport schemes?

Investor citizenship schemes raise concerns about certain inherent risks, in particular as regards security, money laundering, tax evasion and corruption.

Due to the prospect of future Union citizenship of the citizens of candidate countries, citizenship of these countries becomes increasingly attractive to investors. This is the case already during the accession process as candidate countries and potential candidates develop closer relations with the EU and can obtain the right for their citizens to enter the Schengen area visa-free for short stays.

In order to prevent such schemes causing the risks mentioned, conditions regarding citizenship investor schemes are included as part of the EU accession process. Countries concerned are expected to have very robust monitoring systems in place, including systems to counter possible security risks such as money laundering, terrorist financing, corruption and infiltration of organised crime linked to any such schemes.

EU candidate countries should refrain from any measure that could jeopardise the attainment of the EU’s objectives, when using their prerogatives to award nationality.

The Commission monitors investor citizenship schemes in the context of the EU accession process.

What do you think about cash-for-passport schemes in candidates countries that enjoy Schengen movement, such as Albania? 

While the European Union respects the right of sovereign countries to decide on their own naturalisation procedures, visa-free access to the Union should not be used as a tool for leveraging individual investment in return for citizenship.

The implementation of such schemes will be duly taken into account when assessing third countries that could be considered for a visa-free regime with the European Union. Moreover, third countries that already enjoy visa-free status must carry out security and background checks of applicants for citizenship schemes to the highest possible standards. Any failures in this regard could be grounds for re-imposing a visa requirement and suspending or terminating visa waiver agreements.

The Commission monitors the impact of investor citizenship schemes implemented by visa-free countries as part of the visa-suspension mechanism.

What implications do you think these schemes have in countries where money laundering and corruption is already a significant issue?

Such schemes could be used to bypass the regular Schengen visa procedure and the in-depth assessment of individual migratory and security risks it entails, including a possible evasion of measures to prevent money laundering and financing of terrorism.

What are the implications of EU accession for countries like Albania, operating such schemes? 

The Commission monitors investor citizenship schemes in the context of the EU accession process.

Exit also contacted the EU Delegation in Tirana for comment, but they failed to respond to a number of questions sent via email over a two week period.