By Orville Williams
Prime Minister Gaston Browne has called on countries in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) to issue a joint response to the European Union (EU), following recent pronouncements regarding the region’s lucrative Citizenship by Investment Programmes (CIPs).
These programmes in Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts and Nevis, and St Lucia are now effectively under threat after the EU said last week that it is weighing whether to end visa-free access to the Schengen Area for countries that currently have them.
The EU has previously cited concerns about the security risk such programmes pose to its countries, as countless foreign nationals look to enter their borders via third party means, like the CIPs.
However, the programmes – which allow wealthy foreign nationals to acquire citizenship at a price – not only offer successful applicants travel and tax advantages, they are also a vital component of many of these countries’ economies.
Reports are that, in some cases, the CIPs contribute as much as half of the revenue generated by a single state within a year.
Addressing an online forum on Tuesday, PM Browne called on the sub-regional countries to band together in addressing the matter, considering the magnitude of what they are facing.
“This represents a significant threat to our CBI [Citizenship by Investment] programmes and I’m of the view that we ought to come together as an OECS subregion and to have a démarche on the European Union,” Browne said.
The PM acknowledged the concerns of the EU, which have also been expressed by other large countries, but insisted that systems currently in place are effective in preserving the inviolability of the programmes.
“We do accept that there is some level of residual risk, in that no system is foolproof and from time to time, you may have one or two rotten elements that may slip through. But, to date, there is no evidence that anyone has utilised any of our programmes to commit any act of terrorism.
“And even the concerns about those involved in financial crimes, the amount of monies involved is negligible compared to the level of money laundering that is taking place in North America and Europe.
“[Further], the technology is there to conduct due diligence within a short period of time, so it’s not a case that countries in the Caribbean are cutting corners … undermining the safety of our programmes by not conducting the necessary due diligence,” Browne asserted.
A few years ago Canada discontinued its visa-free access to nationals of the twin island state.
Back then, Canada accused Antigua and Barbuda of not having a strict enough due diligence process, noting that it would consider waiving the visa requirement if significant improvements were made to the CIP.