For just over £4,000 Bulgarian officials have been selling prized EU passports to citizens from Ukraine and Moldova. After the state joined the EU in 2007 applications surged as corrupt officials found there was considerable money to be made.
Because of the EU’s freedom of movement and strained Schengen area this is not simply a domestic matter. The passports entitle the holders to live and work across the whole EU.
In the last decade it is thought that as many as 100,000 dodgy Bulgarian passports have been sold. That’s 30 a week.
In the last year, 10,000 people from Serbia, Albania, Moldova and others were able to get EU citizenship based on falsely acquired Bulgarian “relatives” and hence passports. Due to the differing wealth across the bloc, most moved on from Bulgaria to the richer western states.
Officials were tipped off when 114 criminals on Interpol’s watch list wound up with Bulgarian passports. The head of the State Agency for Bulgarians Abroad, Peter Haralampiev, was arrested on suspicion of bribery and forgery, as well as a number of officials from his department.
This is not the first such case to hit the EU. Malta and Cyprus have also been hotspots for such fraud. And it has serious implications. As EU justice commissioner Vera Jourova said: “We have legitimate concerns, because if in one country a dangerous person gets citizenship, he gets citizenship for the whole of Europe.”
This is simply the latest in a string of fraud and corruption scandals to engulf the EU’s periphery. Because of the EU’s structures these are not domestic matters – they impact and endanger the whole project and the countries within it.
Moving forward the EU needs to be far more stringent in assessing nation’s readiness to join. Corruption spreads like a disease, and it is already causing serious concern among the bloc’s more matured democracies.