Subsidiarity and loyalty

malta passport

The Prime Minister has a generational transformation in sight which he wants to bankroll with the monies generated by his sale of citizenship scheme. His supporters see traitors everywhere as they cannot stomach any form of criticism.

Does any EU member state have the right to introduce and implement a sale of citizenship scheme?  Government spokesmen have repeatedly stated that the Malta Government has been advised that it is in line with EU legislation. In line with the subsidiarity principle, nationality issues, we were told, are the sole and exclusive competence of EU member states.

No one is contesting that nationality issues are a national competence. In fact even Commissioner Viviene Reding made this amply clear. There is however much more to it than state competence. There is the duty to be loyal to the Union and other member states. Article 4.3 of the European Union Treaty explains this as the principle of sincere cooperation, also referred to as the loyalty principle: loyalty, that is, towards the other European Union member states.

Government has opted to milk citizenship in order to generate finance so as to be in a position to implement its electoral programme. It has excluded taxation as an option. Moreover it has reduced income tax as part of its electoral strategy in order to outwit the former government, knowing full well that this necessitated alternative financial avenues. Never did it place its plans to put citizenship on sale before the electorate for its consideration. Ethically the Labour Party cannot claim to have an electoral mandate on the matter.

The local political debate has revealed diametrically opposed positions. Government’s position is dictated by its strategy of requiring cash in order to finance its political initiatives. Time is of essence in its strategy. It cannot afford to wait for would-be investors to take initiatives of their choice. There is no direct link between the prospective citizen and the manner in which the monies he pays are “invested”. It is in fact an exercise of selling citizenship with a commitment to use the proceeds in a specific manner. The funds generated are hypothecated. A residential criterion has so far been ruled out, most probably,  as this would only serve as a delaying factor. It would delay the flow of the monies required depending on how long the residential criterion runs.

The warning shot fired by the EU Parliament is not to be discarded as the EU Parliament is the only democratically elected EU institution. Nor is Commissioner Reding’s statement  one that could be ignored. Reding has stated that:

While I am not calling for the Commission to receive legal power to determine what constitutes nationality or the rules granting it, the Commission nevertheless expects that Member States act in full awareness of the consequences of their decisions.

Our debate today shows the growing importance of these questions in a European Union where national decisions are in many instances not neutral vis-à-vis other Member States and the EU as a whole. It is a fact that the principle of sincere cooperation, which is inscribed in the EU Treaties (Article 4.3 of the Treaty on European Union), should lead Member States to take account of the impact of decisions in the field of nationality on other Member States and the Union as a whole.”

Clearly the competence of member states on issues of citizenship is not absolute. Given its impacts on all the other members of the Union in areas of national security, freedom of movement in the Schengen Area, rights to residence and employment, it stands to reason that both the EU as well as member states require consultation which apparently was not carried out.

The capping of the citizenship scheme at 1,800 passports for sale is certainly not enough. A residential condition of reasonable length is also  required as an additional and essential element. This would however be a sticking point as whilst it could render the proposed scheme less un-acceptable and in line with some of the practices elsewhere, it may fail to deliver what the Maltese Government requires on time.

It is with this in mind that the Greens in Malta have time and again called on Government to suspend the implementation of the scheme and concurrently to initiate a dialogue with Brussels. The problem at an EU level may eventually be resolved around the negotiating table. This would result in less reputational damage for Malta. A meeting called between the EU Commision and the Malta Government seems to be imminent. Hopefully matters will take a positive turn.

That would leave the political issue to be solved locally, either in Parliament or at the ballot box through a public consultation. The Prime Minister has already indicated that he is willing to submit the issue to a national consultation.  It is the decent way forward, part of our learning curve as a nation.

published in The Times of Malta, Saturday January 25, 2014