Centre for Civic Education (CCE) expresses concern about the extent of granting of the so-called honorary citizenships by the care-taker Government of Dritan Abazović, especially bearing in mind that, contrary to the recommendations of the European Commission (EC), the largest number of these citizenships are linked to the controversial Economic Citizenship Programme.
The latest data that the CCE received from the Ministry of the Interior, in accordance with the Free Access to Information Law, indicate that this Government granted 296 new citizenships from 31 August to 8 November 2022, of which 292 were proposed by the Prime Minister, and four at the proposal of the President of Montenegro.
For five citizenships, the state interest was not specified in the decisions, while for the other 287 it was explained that these were granted based on the Economic Citizenship Programme. The largest number of persons who received citizenship in this period came from Russia (110), followed by China (67) and the USA (24).
With this cross-section, the number of citizenships granted on this discretionary basis increased to 1072. Of that number, as many as 682 citizenships were granted in the period from the change of government, i.e. from 28 December 2020 to 8 November 2022, with 363 in the mandate of the Government of Dritan Abazović, and of which the largest number since the vote of no confidence for that Government. More precisely, 61 citizenships during the full mandate of the Government of Abazović, and 302 citizenships, or over 80%, after 19 August 2022 and the loss of confidence in the Parliament of Montenegro, that is, in the technical mandate. CCE notes that it has no data from 8 November to today regarding this issue, and bearing in mind this dynamic, it can be assumed that this number is significantly higher.
CCE reminds that in its latest Country Report for Montenegro for 2022, the EC repeats earlier criticisms of the Economic Citizenship Programme, emphasizing that instead of entering the phase out from this programme, the Government of Abazović reduced the financial criteria, i.e. the bank guarantee from EUR 2.5 million to 1 million EUR, for admission based on this programme, but also added some other privileges to the already privileged applicants for economic citizenship.
“This programme poses risks such as money laundering, tax evasion, terrorist financing, corruption and infiltration of organized crime and should be terminated,” says the EC in general recommendations. In the part where this issue is elaborated in detail, the message is more decisive: “In its fourth and fifth report within the visa suspension mechanism, the EC recommended that Montenegro effectively phase-out the investor citizenship scheme as soon as possible. Montenegro still has not implemented this request“. Also, the EC warns: “Montenegro’s visa policy is not fully aligned with EU policy and Montenegro has not yet terminated its investor citizenship programme, despite previous recommendations and commitments”, from which it is clear that the Government is consciously putting into question the abolition of the visa-free regime for citizens of Montenegro and ignoring serious warnings from the EC for the sake of certain particular interests.
For the sake of the transparency of this issue and the full availability of information for all interested parties, the CCE will publish the full names and details of all those who have received citizenship through the privileged procedure so far.
Damir Suljević, Programme Associate