Malta has found a new plan to overcome the financial crisis. The small Mediterranean island will now sell Maltese citizenship for €650.000; aiming to attract big spenders and investors. The Maltese government hopes to sell 200 to 300 passports per year.  Prime Minister Joseph Muscat predicts it will bring in €30 million annually and therefore, help ease the island’s deficit. Malta has been an EU member since 2004, which means that, based on article 9 of the Lisbon Treaty, Maltese citizenship equals EU membership. This means that the right to live, work and travel in all the other 27 member states comes along with this citizenship. Obviously, if Malta wasn’t an EU member, the price of citizenship would not be so high. This sale of citizenship is being driven by the Labour party, which is quite ironic since the Labour party strongly opposed EU membership at the time of accession talks.

Legally, the EU has no power to stop Malta or other EU member states from selling their citizenship. Granting citizenship currently falls outside EU competences. Unfortunately, regarding citizenship this raises many questions due to the impact of migration and citizenship changes on other member states. What about French citizens becoming Belgian to evade French taxes? Or Dutch people who move to Belgium so they can pay lower taxes? Where should we draw the line?

Some EU countries also have similar strategies to increase their wealth. Portugal gives people who invest € 1 million, Portuguese citizenship after five years. Spain, the UK and Austria sell residency to foreigners. However, this is not the same as selling citizenship. Malta has gone one step further. There is no requirement to live in or to invest in Malta. You just need to pay for the passport. And with a Maltese passport, you can move to any other EU country.

Critics say this will endanger Malta’s reputation as a “reputable financial centre”. I must agree that the Maltese plan is not a pretty characteristic of politics and can be seen as a ‘prostitution’ of national identity. On the other hand, the EU should be proud at the Maltese plan because EU citizenship now has a price!

In a way, I do understand Malta’s strategy. With such a small population, €30 million is a major boost to the island’s economy. However, by focusing on financial contribution, it does ignore the potential contribution of existing migrants, who have difficulties obtaining citizenship due to the tough laws. The high price for the citizenship creates an obstacle for regular people and the migrants’ talents are ignored. Poor people escaping from famine or poor living conditions are seemingly less welcome than successful businesspeople.

Even though I understand the economic perspective, there is also an ethical perspective. Nationality is based on the bond of citizenship, which means the sense of belonging to one nation. A nation is a community with people who share this sense of belonging and people ‘feeling as one’. In European history, nations were created by education with a standard language and the army. According to Johann Gottfried Herder, you can’t just become part of another nation. Speaking a language is a whole mental perspective that you are living in. To be born into a linguistic community means having certain values and norms that are part of it and you cannot change this by simply moving to another country and changing your nationality by passport. So it is a cultural definition instead of political. It is decided for you. First there is the nation, then the individual.

So, shouldn’t Maltese citizenship be accompanied with obligatory attendance in education on Malta’s social and political institutions as well as Maltese language? The purchase of citizenship is not related to ethnicity. Actually, it would make more sense to grant citizenship to refugees and migrants who have been in Malta for a significant part of their lives instead of business people who can simply spend a lot of money.

I do wonder who will be the first to buy a Maltese passport. But unfortunately, the names of buyers will not be disclosed.