PORTUGAL: Government restricts access to information on “Golden Visas”

(European Civic Forum on CIVICUS Monitor) In late March, Transparency International Portugal reported that the government had failed to provide the public with detailed information on so-called “golden visas”, investment-related resident permits which exist in the majority of EU countries. These visas allow foreign investors to obtain a temporary residency and access to Europe’s Schengen Area in exchange for investment to stimulate the economy. The Schengen area currently comprises of 26 European Union member states who have abolished passport controls at their borders for Schengen visa holders. Critics of the scheme say that, instead of stimulating economic activity, the visas have contributed to money laundering, corruption, organised crime and increased risks of corruption of politicians and public officials.

A list of beneficiaries was supposed to be released in November last year but at the time of writing, the list is still not available to the public. The report from Transparency International Portugal states:

“Although there are several sources of information on statistical data on visas there is no centralised database so that the figures [from] different sources do not always coincide. It is also not possible to access the identity of the nature and size of their investments, which would allow civil society and the media to monitor the programme. In addition, only through leaks of information that Expresso in partnership with British newspaper The Guardian was able to reveal that several individuals suspected of corruption in Brazil were candidates for gold visas in Portugal.” (translated from Portuguese)

New EU Directive on the Protection of Whistleblowers

Civil society welcomed the European Commission proposal for a new Directive on the Protection of Whistleblowers on 23rd April 2018. According to Transparência e Integridade, the question of whistleblower protection has traditionally encountered resistance in the Portuguese landscape as culturally the concept was always associated with that of “traitor” or “snitch”. Nevertheless, there is hope that the Portuguese government will endorse the Commission proposal in the Council and that the directive could open a public debate on the issue.