Could Croatia soften its laws on the acquisition of citizenship for foreign investors bringing money, jobs and other benefits with them to Croatia? It’s a sensitive topic for many, but more and more people in business circles are beginning to believe that this could be one answer to Croatia’s increasingly bleak demographic picture.
As Boris Oresic/Novac writes on the 17th of March, 2019, the value of a passport is measured by the number of countries to which its owner can travel without the need for a visa. On the World Passport Index, the Republic of Croatia holds a high ranking of sixteen because the owners of its travel documents enjoy visa-free travel to 169 countries across the world.
According to the latest research by the Swiss agency Henley & Partners, which helps individuals who want to acquire the nationality of a country, the most powerful passports are Japan and Singapore, which allows visa-free access to 189 countries, with Germany coming second with just one number less. Following that come Finland, France, Italy, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, and Denmark.
From year to year, more and more countries abolish visas for Croatian passport holders, making the blue passport with the Croatian coat of arms more and more sought after in general. However, unlike some European countries, the Croatian state has not yet decided on what is considered by many to be a controversial move – selling its citizenship to those who want to pay good money for it and don’t pose a risk to national security.
Portugal, Austria, Malta, Spain, Latvia, Lithuania, Greece, Cyprus and Bulgaria are some of the EU countries which, under varying conditions, do offer such opportunities to foreigners. By selling their passports or permanent residence permits, these countries manage to earn significant income from East Asia, Russia and the Middle East who aren’t lacking money and who want EU documents which automatically enable them to move freely and operate in 28 member states, some of which fall into the most powerful countries of the world.
The European Commission doesn’t take such a bright view at such practices, and at the end of January it warned EU member states that third-country investors seeking such so-called ”golden passports” and ”golden visas” increase the security risk throughout the EU. This criticism is mostly related to Malta, Cyprus and Bulgaria, which have the most liberal laws on the matter. For example, Malta charges 650,000 euros for its passport, and the applicant must have possessed 350,000 euros worth of real estate on its territory for five years. Cyprus offers its citizenship to those who invest 2 million euros and have real estate worth more than 500,000 euros. As one of its arguments for deterring the practice of selling citizenship, the European Commission cites the potential problems of Russian capital of suspect origin.
The former government of SDP’s Zoran Milanović discussed the idea of major investors being allowed to acquire citizenship back in 2015, but such notions appear to have been quickly given up on and there is no indication, at least at the moment, that these regulations could change significantly. In business circles however, there are plenty of people who think that it’s high time that Croatia softens its rigid attitude, because by selling a certain number of passports, it would not have lost anything and could in turn gain many benefits. With the country’s demographic image becoming more and more bleak, many believe a softened stance wouldn’t hurt.
Globus’s interlocutor, who is otherwise very well-versed in this topic, argues that when looking for security and business opportunities, the Croatian passport is most likely to be sought after by businessmen from Asia and Russia.
”The Agency conducts an investigation to make sure the applicant isn’t a criminal, that he isn’t in political asylum, that he doesn’t abuse taxation… Then it’s handed over to the country whose official services also do their part before deciding whether or not to comply with the request,” says Globus’s source, adding that this year alone, Croatia has raised its quota for the employment of foreign workers from non-EU countries to as high a figure as 65,000.
”How can we know that there are no criminals among these people? It’s hard to believe that some rich man would come to Croatia with the intent of blowing it up with explosives. It’s not known that anyone with a Maltese passport is linked to some terrorist attack. Security risks don’t exist,” explains a Croatian entrepreneur who is well acquainted with some very wealthy business people and others who would like to spread their wings, their work and their money into Croatia if they were to gain citizenship.
The number of people who can be granted citizenship can be limited by each country or by set quotas. Globus’s source believes that a quota of the first thousand passports offered for sale would be completed within a year to a year and a half. This would mean that 300 million euros would be pumped directly into the state budget, which roughly covers the entire value of Pelješac bridge. Advocates of such ideas believe that several thousand wealthy foreigners would acquire all of the rights and obligations of all other Croatian citizens, and would not undermine the demographic picture of Croatia, which is already as grim as grim can be. Most of them, however, would probably not spend much time here in Croatia, and they would certainly not vote in national elections.
The Ministry of the Interior (MUP) is responsible for all issues related to the acquisition of Croatian citizenship, yet most member states do have rather vague legislation, however difficult it might be to come across, that points to discretionary procedures for naturalisation. In such proceedings, a state may freely grant nationality to a foreigner based on its national interests, that is typically related to outstanding achievements such as those in the field of culture, science or sport, but it can also be equated with economic interest.
There is a legal possibility for a foreign entrepreneur or an investor to acquire Croatian citizenship in a more privileged manner if the competent ministry feels that it is in the interest of the state to grant it. The Ministry of the Interior notes that the process of amendment to the Law on Croatian Citizenship is indeed in progress, but it does not foresee an amendment to Article 12 in order to facilitate the acquisition of citizenship for foreigners who want Croatian nationality purely for investing in Croatia.