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European citizenship: Which EU member states are offering "Citizenship by Investment" programmes?

In 2014 the Vice-President of the European Commission and EU Justice Commissioner, Viviane Reeding, stated: "Citizenship must not be up for sale!" Nowadays – much to the displeasure of the European Union (EU) – the "status quo" shows that there are still EU member states which offer special citizenship programmes to investors; in practical terms this means that some EU member states grant the European citizenship in exchange for substantial investments.

In 2016 the research services of the German Federal parliament conducted an official investigation regarding the EU member states’ national legislation on the acquisition of citizenship; in concreto, the research services scrutinised whether there are national citizenship laws within the EU granting citizenship on the basis of substantial investments (Wissenschaftliche Dienste, Ausarbeitung WD 3 - 3000 – 026/15).

According to the information given by the parliaments of the EU member states and the further legal research done by the research services of the German Federal parliament, the only EU member states whose citizenship laws foresee the opportunity to acquire citizenship by undertaking substantial investments are: Malta, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Austria. The rest of the EU member states do not have any “Citizenship by Investment” programmes.

Even though the EU member state of Austria does not offer a "Citizenship by Investment" programme per se, the Austrian Citizenship Act contains a provision permitting the Austrian government to grant foreign nationals the Austrian citizenship as a reward for "extraordinary achievements". These "extraordinary achievements" must be of "particularly high interest for the republic". According to media reports, the Russian singer, Anna Netrebko, met these criteria and received the Austrian passport.

However, the provision referred to does not specify the amount of money which has to be invested in order to acquire the Austrian citizenship. The decision on whether the investment is substantial enough is at the sole discretion of the Austrian government. In this respect the legal situation in the other three "Citizenship by Investment" offering EU member states is more transperant: Malta, Cyprus and Bulgaria do specify the amount of money regarding the required investment.

Nonetheless, it has to be taken into account that in order to apply for the Maltese citizenship foreign nationals have to proof a stay of twelve months in Malta. Also the EU member states of Cyprus and Bulgaria do not allow acquiring the citizenship without a previous residence in the country. For instance, foreign nationals have to reside in Bulgaria for five years before applying for the Bulgarian citizenship.

On the contrary, pursuant to the pertinent provisions of the Citizenship Act of Austria foreign nationals do not have to meet any residence requirement if the Austrian government grants the Austrian citizenship because of “already made or expected extraordinary achievements in the particularly high interest of the republic". In addition to this, the Austrian Citizenship Act also provides the opportunity to apply for the Austrian citizenship after a continuous and lawful residence in Austria of 6 years as a reward for extraordinary achievements which are of “national interest”. The difference between the two regulations mentioned lies in the level of national interest.

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