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Watch: Passport buyers must have a 'clear link' to selling countries - European Commission

Frans Timmermans says Daphne Project revelations are being monitored

Brussels is building up an appetite for looking into cash-for-passport schemes such as Malta’s Individual Investor Programme, one of the European Commission’s top policymakers indicated on Monday.

“There must be a clear link between a person and the country they receive nationality from,” Commission first vice-president Frans Timmermans told journalists inside the EC press room in Brussels. “That is something we can raise with Malta. If you grant citizenship to someone, that person should have a demonstrable link with that country.”

Mr Timmermans acknowledged that the Commission’s scope was limited when it came to issues of citizenship – a domain which member states jealously guard away from Brussels’ prying eyes.

But his hint suggests that EU policymakers are looking into ways of reining in citizenship schemes such as Malta’s, amidst concerns mounting about wealthy criminals buying a European passport as a backdoor into the continent.

WATCH: 'If there are grounds for sanctions against Malta, we will not hesitate'

In August 2017, a BBC crew had reported on wealthy Maltese passport buyers forking out large sums of money for apartments they never set foot in, as a means of satisfying IIP application requirements.

Jourova to visit Malta

Mr Timmermans’ hint was echoed by EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova, who told reporters that it would be “good to discuss” the citizenship programme with Maltese authorities.

Ms Jourova, who said she wanted to pay Malta a visit in June, rattled off a list of issues she wanted on the agenda during meetings in Valletta: a stronger FIAU, delayed implementation of EU anti-money laundering rules and progress on the Daphne Caruana Galizia investigation all featured.

One positive note, both Mr Timmermans and Ms Jourova agreed, was Malta’s decision to join the European Public Prosecutors’ Office.

Daphne Project

Mr Timmermans again stressed that the EU would not shy away from acting against Malta if revelations concerning Ms Caruana Galizia’s murder warranted it.

“We will not shy away from the consequences if they pertain to Malta, Maltese society or its economic structures,” he said.

READ: EU plans new rules for whistleblower protection

“Everything the Daphne Project brings to table and which is new information will be carefully ascertained. If we see scope to act, we will do so,” Mr Timmermans said.

On Monday, Mr Timmermans received a letter from European People's Party president Manfred Weber reacting to Daphne Project revelations showing how €1.3 million was wired to a "target company" of Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri's Panama companies. 

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In the letter, Mr Weber called on the Commission to begin a "rule of law dialogue" with Maltese authorities "to defend the integrity of our Union and the rule of law in our member states".

Whistleblower protection

Mr Timmermans and Ms Jourova were speaking on Monday at a press conference discussing European Commission proposals concerning the protection of whistleblowers.

Proposed new laws would strengthen protection of whistleblowers irrespective of their employment status, and introduce a three-tier reporting system: an internal mechanism for all companies with more than 50 employees or turnover topping €10m, followed by official whistleblower channels and finally public reporting to the media.

In cases of alleged retaliation against whistleblowers, the burden of proof will be reversed, and it will be the employer or entity in question which must prove that it did not discriminate against the whistleblower.

The Commission’s proposals must be approved by MEPs before they can be passed into EU law, with Mr Timmermans saying he hoped that would happen “before the end of our terms next year.”

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