VALLETTA, Malta (AP) — Malta's government has rebuffed European lawmakers' call to halt a plan to sell Maltese passports to foreigners, which would automatically grant them access to the European Union.
The European Parliament on Thursday overwhelmingly passed a non-binding resolution urging Malta to stop the program, saying it "undermines the very concept of European citizenship." Prime Minister Joseph Muscat told a news conference that the plan will continue.
"We have taken note of what has been said. Now let's move on," Muscat said, adding that his government will be "very selective" in who it approves for the plan. The government has started receiving applications, but Muscat declined to say how many since the program took effect earlier this week. The program requires total investments of 1.15 million euros ($1.57 million) but lacks a residency requirement sought by the opposition. Muscat has said it will be capped at 1,800 passports.
The opposition Nationalist Party has described the European Parliament's vote as one of no-confidence in the plan and called for its withdrawal. The opposition, however, has lacked the power to block it outright, while winning some compromises such as the publication of the names of those who would be granted citizenship under the scheme.
Nearly 90 percent of the 626 lawmakers who voted in Strasbourg, including conservatives, socialists and Greens, endorsed the declaration that acknowledges citizenship matters are up to member states, but calls on members to be careful when exercising this right and to consider the ramifications.
During the debate about Malta on Wednesday, European Commissioner Viviane Reding said member states should award citizenship only when there is a genuine link. "Citizenship should not be up for sale," she said.