Montenegrin Finance Minister Aleksandar Damjanovic said on Monday that the economic citizenship program should be continued, despite European Union pressure to terminate the program by the end of the year.
He told parliament’s Economy and Budget Council session that in 2023 the government expects to earn 70 million euros from the program.
“From applications that are in procedure and those that have not even started to be solved we expect up to 70 million euros – about 35 million of incomes is certain, but it’s estimated up to 70 million for the next year,” he said.
“European friends insist that this project be completed [ended] by 2023. I will only say that this would cause enormous damage to Montenegro and that we need to find a way to see if there is a model to continue with implementation,” Damjanovic said.
On his first official visit to Brussels on May 20, Montenegrin Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic said that the controversial program would end on December 31. He said there would be additional controls to make the whole process more transparent.
On September 29, Abazovic confirmed that the program will terminate by the end of the year, while stressing that new applications can be submitted until December 31.
“The program brought the numerous benefits, valuable investments were made through it and new jobs were created. But we also have to respect our EU partner’s requests,” Abazovic said.
In March last year, the government, which came to power after the electoral defeat of Milo Djukanovic’s Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS, announced that the citizenship program will be terminated by the end of 2021 because it could slow Montenegro’s European Union accession.
But in December, the government extended the program until the end of 2022, claiming it would impose stricter conditions for gaining economic citizenship.
Investors that had already requested citizenship would now have to submit a bank guarantee worth 50 per cent of the investment prescribed by the program.
Montenegrin civic activists have long called on the government to end the “golden passport” program, warning it could slow the path to EU membership.
In this year’s progress report, the European Commission also pressed Montenegro to phase out the scheme, citing risks related to money laundering.
According to government data, 108 foreign citizens, mostly from Russia and China, have so far obtained Montenegrin passports by buying apartments in hotels or by donating money to underdeveloped areas.
The former government under the DPS started three “economic citizenship” schemes in 2010, initially selling passports to “renowned businessmen of credible reputation” if they invested at least half-a-million euros.
The most recent program for foreign investors was launched in January 2019, 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, Balkan Insight writes.