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The luxury market in EU citizenship


In the Boston Review, Max Holleran writes about Southern European countries like Malta that sell citizenship to wealthy foreign individuals. This practice of “citizenship-by-investment” has increased considerably since the 2008 financial collapse, as a means of raising revenue for stained state budgets. As Holleran points out, this treatment of foreigners seeking EU citizenship stands in stark contrast to the treatment of non-wealthy migrants and refugees who have been risking their lives to comes to Europe. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

As Southern Europe continues to have tense relations with wealthier EU nations over austerity, many politicians have been forced to cast a wider net to find allies and investors. Cyprus has drawn a large Russian population. China has invested in infrastructure and real estate in Greece and Spain. Portugal even saw the acquisition of a large national bank by its former colony, Angola. Compared to privatizing national industries or providing staging grounds for non-EU companies, selling passports is easy because it is geared toward mobility. It also reinforces the logic that small countries must constantly innovate in order to stay relevant to business opportunities and protect themselves from economic hardship. As Lino Bianco, a Maltese professor and the ambassador to Bulgaria, put it: “Maltese are survivors by circumstances. They turn failures into successes.” Using passports as an asset to be exchanged for cash seems reasonable given a dearth of economic options and a long history of trading, migration, and outside rule by regional powers. Unlike in larger countries, Maltese citizenship has always been negotiable and responsive to wider power struggles on the European continent. The most important thing for the Maltese was to get the best deal possible.

What differentiates citizenship-investors from those who go through a naturalization process is sweat equity. Citizenship-for-sale programs cynically reject the notion of national community, even at a time of rising xenophobia in Europe. Investors can experience citizenship—and all its attendant bonds, prejudices, and heart-stirring emotions—through a bank transfer and a paper booklet while the vast majority of those struggling to migrate must cross deserts, pack into dinghies, live in the shadows, struggle to maintain hope in detention centers, face deportation, study languages and history, and maybe, just maybe—only after many years—stand proudly among their friends and families with their hand on their heart.

Image via Boston Review.