As published on balkaninsight.com, Monday 15 August, 2022.
Albania is pressing on with its plan to start selling passports to rich foreigners and investors, despite repeated criticism from the EU that this scheme, also used in some neighbouring countries, goes against EU values and could cause problems in bids to join the bloc.
After first changing the law on private-public partnerships (PPP) by adding the citizenship programmes to lists in which the law can be used, the Albanian government is now considering hiring private firms to promote this scheme to foreigners.
The issue of granting Albanian citizenship to foreign investors, something that the government of Edi Rama has been mulling for about three years, came under the spotlight again recently, after a government decision, passed on July 29 but published on August 9, envisaged that forms of PPPs could also be used for this citizenship programme.
This raised a small storm on social media. Citizenship is granted only by decree of the head of state after previous checks by the Interior Ministry, but there are worries that what is in essence a security issue and state task could end up being privatised.
Bledar Skenderi, who runs the Agency of Drafting the Special Programs of Citizenship – which was created in 2020 – clarified for BIRN on Monday that they are only “exploring and planning to hire an international company which will promote Albanian passports”. He said that the actual issuance of citizenship and the required security checks would remain under state jurisdiction.
To date, government officials have rejected EU criticism over this issue as driven by prejudice, insisting that the programme will be free of corruption and with the sole purpose of attracting investors, not just those seeking an Albanian passport.
As Brussels noted in its latest progress report on Albania for 2021: “On citizenship rights, a provision of the Law on Citizenship adopted in July 2020 may still lead to the establishment of an investors’ citizenship scheme. Such schemes pose risks as regards security, money laundering, tax evasion, terrorist financing, corruption and infiltration by organised crime and are incompatible with the EU acquis. As a candidate country, Albania should refrain from developing such a scheme.”
Similar citizenship schemes in North Macedonia and Montenegro have also faced criticism from the EU.
Europe’s most recent programme for foreign investors was launched in January 2019 in Montenegro, when the government offered passports to investors who invested at least 250,000 euros in undeveloped regions in the north or 450,000 euros in more developed regions.
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama has been in favour of such an initiative since 2019 after attending a conference for “golden passports” in London. He considers the citizenship-by-investment programme as having “enormous potential” for the country.
In 2020, Albania passed the law “On Citizenship”, which included an article that would grant citizenship for “special cases”: under the first, citizenship can be granted to a foreign citizen who has reached the age of 18 years old if it does not pose a threat to public order and national security, and in cases where Albania has a national interest or interest in the field of education, science, art, culture, economy and sport. And under the second case it can be granted through special programmes.
The agency, Drafting the Special Programmes of Citizenship, was created in 2020 and is responsible for drafting special citizenship programmes and controls the background checks for those who apply for citizenship. It then proposes to the other responsible authority, the Interior Ministry, to do background checks on the applicants and the president to grant the citizenship.