Being Frank With Our Friends
Hon. Alex Muscat – Parliamentary Secretary for Citizenship and Communities
Malta is a team player in Europe. We cooperate with our partners. We understand the importance of Europeans working together. And we take strength from the friendships we have established.
But like any relationship, there has to be give and take. And there are issues at the forefront now that have to be dealt with.
The European Commission for Democracy through Law, more commonly known as the Venice Commission, came up with advice on ensuring that our legal and institutional structures were in line with European standards and international experience in the fields of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. We listened and we are acting.
Reforms to strengthen the judicial system in Malta are being enacted. It is not a case of us doing what they said word for word, but we recognised there was room for improvement and we were happy to act.
When the shoe was on the other foot and we said Malta faced a huge problem with irregular immigration, our European partners were not so quick to act. Recently we saved hundreds of lives at sea but no one stepped forward to open a port for them.
In Libya, if the build-up of migrants continues apace we could get to the stage where hundreds of thousands of people are ready to risk everything and put their lives into the hands of human traffickers. We keep raising the issue in Brussels but our pleas have been met with a deafening silence.
Now the EU is frowning on residence schemes such as our Individual Investor Programme. By welcoming just 300 new citizens a year we have earned €1.4 billion in six years. The funds have been a tremendous boost to the Maltese economy and will prove to be even more useful as we recover from the hit the economy has taken from COVID-19.
We have made it clear that IIP is here to stay. It’s a highly responsible scheme where applicants undergo stringent due diligence.
As good Europeans we will, of course, listen to ideas about how it could be enhanced. We have no objections to making improvements, but citizenship schemes are a matter for member states and the EU should not be trying to remove what is a vital income stream for Malta.
It’s actually the case that the income stream isn’t just ours. Larger EU economies benefit indirectly too. They might not have citizenship investment programmes themselves, but they are the prime beneficiaries of the foreign direct investment that results from Malta and other smaller countries having them.
It’s because we are too small for very large-scale investment. European institutions are missing a trick. They are so blinded by what they believe is just plain wrong that they are failing to recognise the way they benefit themselves.
Malta also has to be on its guard to preserve its ability to set tax rates. While the EU is right to put forward recovery packages to get everyone beyond COVID-19 this shouldn’t be at the expense of member states determining their own taxes. Our advantageous tax rates have brought a boom in the online gaming sector. If we were to backtrack on them we would just be shooting ourselves in the foot.
Another strain within Europe is Brexit. It’s a tricky issue because this is a case of one member state, the United Kingdom, turning its back on what the EU stands for. The UK may have left the Union but it is nowhere near striking a trade agreement with Brussels. The deadline is ticking to December 31.
Regardless of what deal or if no deal occurs, Malta has pledged to be the most Britain-friendly EU nation following Brexit. It again illustrates our desire to have good relationships, rather than put up barriers.
The Maltese government is clear about its role.
It wants to work with European partners and appreciates there will always be a need for compromise.
My particular responsibility in government is the Individual Investor Programme and, in my communications with the EU, I’ve said I’m happy to engage in discussion where there are concerns. But I’m not going to negotiate away the revenues this scheme brings.
The truth is that Malta has the most rigorous of schemes. Other countries reject far less applicants than we do, and we have always been happy to pass on knowledge of our procedures so as to help other member states reach our high standards of due diligence.