The government backpedaled even after Parliament passed the legislation and President George Abela signed it, an indication that Prime Minister Joseph Muscat was feeling the heat from the opposition, unions and ordinary Maltese—and some negative international media reports.
The proposal would have allowed foreigners to buy a Maltese passport without any residency or investment requirements, thus gaining coveted entrance and residency in any of the other 27 EU member states. The government had predicted the proposal would bring in 30 million euros ($40 million) annually and help ease the country's deficit.
But Muscat told Parliament late Tuesday that the government was ready to hold talks with the opposition Nationalist Party to negotiate changes to the law, and hinted that he would seek a referendum if no agreement is found.
The Nationalists had opposed the law, vowing to repeal it if they returned to power and revoke all the citizenships sold. In a statement, the Nationalists welcomed the shelving of the legislation and said they were ready to discuss amendments requiring the new passport holders to have Maltese residency and offer job-creating investment opportunities.
The government earlier this week rolled back one of the more controversial elements of the law, saying it would publish the names of people buying Maltese passports. The Nationalists, backed by civil society groups and some ordinary Maltese, had argued that keeping the names secret as was originally envisioned could have exposed Malta to ill-intentioned citizenship-seekers, including possible terrorists.