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European Union

Malta firm on passport sales despite EU pressure

Malta will not back down from a plan to sell Maltese passports to foreigners, despite European Union opposition. Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said the initiative could net the country a billion euros.

Under the plan, Malta is set to charge 1.15 million euros ($1.58 million) for citizenship, with 1,800 passports available for purchase. Nearly 90 percent of the 626-strong European Parliament in Strasbourg voted in a non-binding resolution urging Malta to stop the program, but it appears to have done little to dissuade Muscat.

"My government was elected to govern in the national interest. It was elected to bring about change and raise living standards," Muscat, who is a former EU parliamentarian, told journalists on Thursday.

"We have taken note of what has been said. Now let's move on."

Muscat added his government will be "very selective" in who it approves for the plan. He said applications have begun to arrive after the program took effect this week, but would not reveal how many the government had received.

Pointing out other member states had introduced schemes involving the direct or indirect sale of EU citizenship, Muscat said monies raised from the initiative would be spent on education, healthcare and job creation. But the EU lawmakers have called on the European Commission to clarify whether the move is permitted, saying the selling of passports "undermines the very concept of European citizenship."

No 'price tag' on EU citizenship

In a statement about the resolution on Thursday, the European Parliament called "on Malta to bring its current citizenship scheme into line with EU values."

"EU citizenship must not have a 'price tag' attached to it," the statement said.

The EU's stance was supported by Malta's opposition leader Simon Busuttil, who called for the scheme to be scrapped.

"This was a massive vote of no confidence in the citizenship scheme and a massive vote of no confidence against Muscat," he said of the European Parliament's resolution.

ph/dr (AFP, dpa, AP)