Sputnik: What’s your take on the European Union concerns on security threats over some countries issuing these citizenships in return for investments?
Vassilis Hatzopoulos: When we're talking about golden visas, this makes up to two situations, first, some member states give residence permits to third-country (non-EU) nationals who want to invest in the country, but some other countries like Malta, Cyprus also give nationality, so the awarding of 'golden visas' covers two realities: giving nationality to some people, or giving residence permits for some years, typically five. They both pose some threats to national security: in both situations, holders of nationality or of the residence permit can freely travel within the EU. In both situations there is a risk: like one member state, let's say Greece, that's having financial problems may want to boost investment or property value and then issues residence permits quite easily to, for example, Russians. Then other members states might have objections to Russians entering their territory, but they cannot once the person in question is a resident in Greece they cannot object. They cannot control the person because there are no border controls in Greece and France because of the Schengen area, so there is a threat there. There are common EU rules on, first of all, which countries need a visa and then on the conditions under which visas should be issued. But these criteria, these common rules are applied by national administrations in relatively discretionary way. So there are checks in theory, there are on paper, but how effective they are and how thorough they are, this cannot be controlled by the center, they're a national competence. So the EU can only address the recommendations and can only express its political opposition, which they did (on Tuesday). The other thing that the EU can do is that if a member state regularly and systematically ignores checks before issuing visas is to bring this country before the European Court of Justice for violating the common visa rules, but this will take time of course.
Vassilis Hatzopoulos: No, actually European citizenship is the national citizenship of (each) member state. In order to acquire European citizenship Europe does not have any powers over that. It just recognizes the fact that somebody is citizen of another of one of the member states, so it’s basically a national issue, so this is why again the EU cannot control what happens, it can only addressed political directions on that.
Sputnik: What risks are there in this development for the European Union? Are the European Union just being overly cautious about this do you think?
Vassilis Hatzopoulos: I think there are two reasons, one is the more general issue about identity and who can be part of Europe and whether we are creating an increasingly multicultural society and all those things are nowadays strongly politicized and governments in Italy, Hungry, Poland which are strongly against these kinds of developments. So this is one thing, more identity as a political issue, the other thing is the terrorists as a security issue, but that’s about control of who is free to circulate within the EU, because, I said before, once you have your residence in one member state, you don’t need a visa to go to another member state. Actually they're not controlled; the Schengen system allows for the temporary reintroduction of border controls but this is an exception, so there’s an issue there.
Vassilis Hatzopoulos: The question you're raising here is a very important one, because it relates to the whole question of European integration: who does what, what are the competencies, the powers which have been attributed to the European Union and what are the competencies that the member states retain. The European Union can only do what the member state allow it to do. So far, as I said, there are some common general guidelines about the issuing of visas but this is about the European visa, because the six month visa is the European one, but member states have individually the right to issue visas for a longer period of time, which are basically valid for the national territory, so this second part is for the national territory for which the competence is still with the member states and which is very closely related to sovereignty, trade preferences, political preferences and so on.
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