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Portugal's 'Golden Passports'

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Portugal is seen as being one of the market leaders in the highly controversial so-called 'Golden Passport' business, writes Colin Stevens.

This is a lucrative scheme started by several countries as a relatively easy way to attract foreign money after the 2008 financial crisis but criticized by many for attracting criminals and money laundering to the EU.

It is believed that Portugal has so far issued golden visas to more than 25,000 people, earning more than €5.5 billion, with Henley Partners as the agency mandated by the Portuguese government to handle passport applications.

Now, however, fresh pressure is growing on the EU and its member states to put an end to golden visa programmes that give applicants European residency and/ or citizenship.

The European Parliament says that EU citizenship “cannot be marketed as a commodity” while German MEP Sven Giegold, financial and economic policy spokesperson of the Greens/EFA group, told this website: “Civil rights come to depend on one’s wallet if they can be bought.”

Since its recovery from the financial crisis and the EU bail-out, Portugal has been promoting an image of “EU´s good student” and “poster boy” of economic reform but the reality of Portuguese politics is often a good deal more convoluted than its shiny “poster boy” image suggests.

Some argue that the golden visa programme is a good case in point.

Portugal’s Golden Residence Permit Programme is a five year investment-based residence process for non-EU nationals which allows visa-free travel in the Schengen Zone of 26 European countries. It requires an average of seven days per year stay in Portugal and, after five years as a resident, an applicant is eligible for citizenship if desired.

Portugal does not currently provide golden visa applicants with citizenship but, rather, gives them residency and the ability to travel unimpeded throughout Europe. But, even so, many have questioned the calibre of people afforded the

Portuguese golden visas. These are people – the vast majority of them Chinese - who have, in turn, invested billions of euros into the country.

Even during the health pandemic, it is estimated that such people invested some €43.5 million in Portugal, the vast bulk of it in property.  It is believed that Portugal issued a total of 993 golden visas between January and September last year alone, with most going to investors from China,  followed by Brazil and the U.S.

Critics, however, say the scheme has forced up property prices and totally changed the face of local communities in Portugal.

One example is a new 55-apartment luxury residential project in downtown Lisbon, where around 40% of the acquisitions were made by golden visa buyers.”

To secure residency, an investor has to invest €500,000 in the Portuguese property market, or €1m in the wider economy, or create a business that employs 10 or more people. Portugal introduced the initiative when mired in a financial crisis and desperate to boost inward investment.

The scheme has brought more than €5 billion of foreign investment into the country, according to latest estimates. And this has led to a property boom in both Lisbon and Porto.

But critics of the scheme, such as Giegold, say applicants are not sufficiently vetted, leading to some foreign criminals getting visas.

It is also argued that not enough jobs have been created as a result of the investment, pointing out that out of all 6,416 wealthy foreigners who were granted a golden visa, only 11 individuals (0.2%) went for the option where they create a business that employs more than 10 people.

Ana Santos, of the University of Coimbra, cautions that the golden visa scheme has led to sky-high prices in the Portuguese residential property market.

The European Commission has opened infringement proceedings against Cyprus and Malta for their golden citizenship programmes.

Giegold is among those who want the commission to take similar action against Portugal. He said, “EU citizenship cannot be marketed as a commodity.Visas are not a commodity. Civil rights come to depend on one’s wallet if they can be bought. The sale of visas violates the values and spirit of European cooperation. Individual countries make money selling visas, but the rights apply to the entire Schengen area.”

He added: “Portugal alone has so far issued golden visas to more than 25,000 people, earning more than €5.5 billion.It is a mistake that Ursula von der Leyen does not want to initiate infringement proceedings against member states who sell visas. Von der Leyen does not do justice to her role as guardian of the EU treaties. Doing nothing is an open invitation to criminals.

“Portugal makes profits from rights which are valid throughout Europe. It is a sign of hope that France and Germany do not participate in this questionable source of income. But all member states are exposed to the security risks that golden visas entail throughout the EU. Golden visas open the door for criminals. They can easily launder their dirty money in the EU and avoid taxes. The EU Commission should immediately initiate infringement proceedings against EU member states with visa sales programmes.”

Brexit

Ex-EU Brexit negotiator Barnier: UK reputation at stake in Brexit row

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Head of the Task Force for Relations with the UK, Michel Barnier attendsthe debate on EU-UK trade and cooperation agreement during the second day of a plenary session at the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium April 27, 2021. Olivier Hoslet/Pool via REUTERS

Michel Barnier, the European Union's former Brexit negotiator, said on Monday (14 June) that the reputation of the United Kingdom was at stake regarding tensions over Brexit.

EU politicians have accused British Prime Minister Boris Johnson of not respecting engagements made regarding Brexit. Growing tensions between Britain and the EU threatened to overshadow the Group of Seven summit on Sunday, with London accusing France of "offensive" remarks that Northern Ireland was not part of the UK. Read more

"The United Kingdom needs to pay attention to its reputation," Barnier told France Info radio. "I want Mr Johnson to respect his signature," he added.

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coronavirus

Parliament president calls for a European Search and Rescue Mission

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European Parliament President David Sassoli (pictured) has opened a high-level interparliamentary conference on managing migration and asylum in Europe. The conference focused particularly on the external aspects of migration. The president said: “We have chosen to discuss today the external dimension of migration and asylum policies because we know that only by tackling the instability, crises, poverty, human rights violations that occur beyond our borders, will we be able to address the root causes that push millions of people to leave. We need to manage this global phenomenon in a human way, to welcome the people that knock on our doors every day with dignity and respect.
 
“The COVID-19 pandemic is having a profound impact on migration patterns locally and worldwide and has had a multiplier effect on the forced movement of people around the world, especially where access to treatment and healthcare is not guaranteed. The pandemic has disrupted migration pathways, blocked immigration, destroyed jobs and income, reduced remittances, and pushed millions of migrants and vulnerable populations into poverty.
 
“Migration and asylum are already an integral part of the external action of the European Union. But they must become part of a stronger and more cohesive foreign policy  in the future.
 
“I believe it is our duty first of all to save lives. It is no longer acceptable to leave this responsibility only to NGOs, which perform a substitute function in the Mediterranean. We must go back to thinking about joint action by the European Union in the Mediterranean that saves lives and tackles traffickers. We need a European search and rescue mechanism at sea, which uses the expertise of all actors involved, from Member States to civil society to European agencies.
 
“Second, we must ensure that people in need of protection can arrive in the European Union safely and without risking their lives. We need humanitarian channels to be defined together with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. We must work together on a European resettlement system based on common responsibility. We are talking about people who can also make an important contribution to the recovery of our societies affected by the pandemic and demographic decline, thanks to their work and their skills.
 
“We also need to put in place a European migration reception policy. Together we shoulddefine the criteria for a single entry and residence permit, assessing the needs of our labor markets at a national level. During the pandemic, entire economic sectors came to a halt due to the absence of immigrant workers. We need regulated immigration for the recovery of our societies and for the maintenance of our social protection systems.”

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EU

Commissioners Schmit and Dalli to participate in meeting of employment and social affairs ministers

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Jobs and Social Rights Commissioner Nicolas Schmit and Equality Commissioner Helena Dalli (pictured) will participate in the meeting of employment and social policy ministers today (14 June) in Luxembourg. The ministers will discuss a broad range of issues, including the follow up to the Social Summit in Porto and next steps to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights. In particular, ministers are expected to exchange views on setting national employment and social targets and monitoring progress within the European Semester process. The Council is expected to adopt conclusions on the Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2021-2030. The Strategy is a joint tool to improve the lives of persons with disabilities, covering all aspect of the UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities. The Council is also expected to adopt a Recommendation establishing a European Child Guarantee, which aims to tackle child poverty and social exclusion. It recommends concrete actions to Member States to guarantee access to a set of key services for children in need and to promote equal opportunities. Ministers will also discuss the progress of the Commission proposal for adequate minimum wages in the EU.

Further items on the agenda include economic and social policy coordination, long-term care, pension adequacy, teleworking, social dialogue, health and safety at work, and social security coordination. The Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the EU will also highlight the upcoming High-Level Conference on 21 June in Lisbon to launch the European Platform on Combatting Homelessness. Commissioner Dalli will join the meeting to report to Ministers about the celebrations of the European Diversity Month in May and the way forward regarding the LGBTIQ Equality Strategy. Other points of discussion will be the Directive on binding pay transparency measures and the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 on gender equality. Both the morning and the afternoon sessions will be livestreamed on the Council website. The meeting will be followed by a press conference with Commissioners Schmit and Dalli, which will be broadcast on EbS.

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