In a resolution approved by an overwhelming majority, the European Parliament on Thursday declared that EU citizenship “should never become a tradable commodity.” The resolution – which passed with 560 in favor, 22 opposed and 44 abstentions – is focused on Malta, which is considering granting passports to foreigners willing to invest 1.15 million euros in the small EU member. Other countries offering residence permits in exchange for investments include Britain, Cyprus, Latvia and Portugal. In Greece, investments of over 250,000 euros open the way for a residence permit.
The European Parliament’s resolution raises several important questions – chiefly: Who has the right to EU citizenship? Until recently, the reply depended on geography: If your country was part of the European continent and was accepted into the bloc by its member states, then you too became part of the great EU community. With a large number of immigrants arriving from outside the EU, however, things became more complicated. Some countries adopted policies which offered citizenship to people after a certain period of legal residence, while others, like Greece, chose indifference, leaving immigrants and the rest of society to fend for themselves without a serious framework.
A friend’s story is most illuminating. Born in India, he studied in Germany, married a Greek woman, lived in Greece for many years and raised two children here. Despite this, each year he was forced to apply for a residence permit. When he was transferred to Brussels, after five years he was granted a Belgian passport. To a great extent, the answer to the question “Who has the right to EU citizenship?” is “the lucky ones” – those who were born in a country that is an EU member, or who emigrated to a country that tries to deal with immigration on a serious basis.
Thursday’s vote highlights the fact that members of the European Parliament believe that there is a European citizenship. “EU citizenship implies the holding of a stake in the Union and depends on a person’s ties with Europe and the member states or on personal ties with EU citizens,” the resolution noted. But among those who have EU citizenship are extremists in many countries who see citizens of other EU member states as lower beings – and some of them consider violence against immigrants to be justified. Wherever they may have been born, these people drink from the same well of racism. They are planning a united front against the common enemy – the Union itself. Europe, in other words, is in greater danger from its own citizens and policies (especially those that exacerbate national differences) than new citizens.
Each country has its own conditions for citizenship, and because this is the basis for EU citizenship, perhaps it is time for the bloc to adopt clear conditions for citizenship that will be based on humanism and solidarity. These are the EU’s foundations. Like all foundations, we remember them only when the construction is shaking.