Malta and the Politics of Mobility

Malta and the Politics of Mobility[1]

Today, in the business section of the New York Times. There is a story with the title “Malta Citizenship and Perks for a Price”.[2] The story recounts how the wealthy mobile elite – people referred to in the story as the “0.1%” – are able to claim citizenship of Malta by renting a property on the island for one year in order to establish residency. Once residency has been established these super-elite avatars of a global world can claim citizenship of Malta and thus of the European Union.

One Vietnamese businessmen, eager to start the clock ticking on the 12 month timetable for residency, sent the necessary paperwork on his private jet to expedite renting a property he had never seen.” (pB1)

An immigration lawyer on the island claims that these new “citizens” come to Malta exactly twice – to claim a residency card and then to get a passport. They do not actually have to be in Malta during the 12 months. There is one other small matter. The would be “residents” have to pay 1.2 million euros in order to claim their passport. Some hope the scheme will raise 2 billion euros which equals 25% of the island’s GDP. It turns out that the two times the new citizens have to visit the island is a dramatic improvement on an earlier version of the scheme where the global elite could simply pay. The residency requirement is a new hurdle they have to cross. The scheme is defended in the following way by the chief executive of “Identity Malta” – the body which administers the program.

“We want to attract individuals who can add value to our country because of their ideas, and their networks and their businesses and their talent.”

 

The article is framed within a recognition of Malta’s history as a node of multiculturalism formed through a series of invasions “The Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines, Fatimids, Normans, Sicilians, Spanish, French, a European lay religious order and the British all tried to conquer or rule Malta and many succeeded. Maltese, the official language with English, looks and sounds Arabic, but its speakers are primarily Roman Catholics who pray to Allah, or God.”(B7).

The article concludes with the Identity Malta chief executive expressing his belief that it would be too much to expect the new citizens to actually spend more time in Malta as they want to attract the “real high flyers”. Given the case of the private jet owning Vietnamese businessmen this would appear to be both figurative and literal.

***

The idea of the citizen has, of course, long been attached to two geographies, the geography of a particular place or territory that the citizen belongs to (originally the city-state, then the medieval market city then the nation-state in the classic formulation) and a geography of mobility. The citizen belonged to a place and was able to move within that place and across its borders.[3] It has increasingly been argued that those geographies are being reconfigured. One form of reconfiguration is the new global elite for whom, it is argued, national boundaries are becoming less and less important. These are the private-jet owners – the inhabitants of a smooth space of flows in which bodies move alongside capital at a global scale. Another form of reconfiguration is the shadow-citizens who are increasingly incarcerated within ever more limited worlds. For these citizens even being a member of a nation-state does not appear to bring the full parcel of rights you might expect.

On both of these cases geographies of citizenship are tangled up with meanings and practices of mobility as well as emerging senses of borders as things which are being relocated and multiplied in such a way that they can no longer be simply reduced to the black lines on a political world map.[4] This question of the meaning of borders has become particularly acute in the European Union where the promotion of mobility as an ideal has been matched by the removal of internal borders (particularly in the Schengen zone) and the strengthening of external borders. Etienne Balibar, the French political theorist, has argued that the whole of Europe has become a “borderland” in which the external borders have been replicated internally along lines of race and national identity such that some Europeans (ones with dark skins mostly) experience borderness as part of daily life – not just at an actual political border.[5] So what is happening in Malta is part of this process of “bordering” and the reconfiguration of geographies of citizenship.

***

This raises the issue of a strange absence in the New York Times Malta piece. There is one other reason that Malta has been in the news over the last few years that is logically and politically related to the story of the global mobile elite. Malta has also been the site of the mass incarceration of African immigrants arriving, uninvited, by boat. And these are just the ‘lucky’ ones who do not drown in the attempt. On 12 October 2013 the BBC reported the Maltese Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, as saying that the Mediterranean was turning into a cemetery due to the number of Africans who were drowning in and around Malta during attempts to enter the European Union. “I don’t know how many more people need to die at sea” he said, “before something gets done”.[6] Part of Muscat’s complaint was that the European Union was doing nothing and leaving it up to Malta (and Italy) to deal with what was an EU problem. Between then and now the issue of dangerous attempt by Africans to migrate in unseaworthy and overcrowded boats (the opposite of private jets with residency papers) has become many times worse. Muscat attempted to have some of the migrants flown back to Libya against their wishes. Malta, he pointed out, is an island with 400,000 people that was struggling to deal with tens of thousands of uninvited guests. In the last few years Malta has developed a regime of detention as the immigrants who want to arrive in the European mainland arrive instead in Malta and do not want to be there. They are stuck within a fairly unique regime of mandatory detention. The states of the EU, meanwhile, do not want the immigrants either and effectively use Malta in its historic role as fortress island. The geographer Alison Mountz has been examining this use of islands as sites for the management of global migration – where the process of ‘bordering’ gets relocated “offshore”. Malta becomes part of what Mountz calls “the enforcement archipelago”[7] – a collection of islands that includes Guantanamo, Christmas Island, the Canary Islands and Lampedusa.

***

It is surprising that the New York Times journalist does not connect these two stories. They illustrate the increasingly stark politics of mobility in today’s mobile world.[8] In one case we see a set of laws made up to encourage Maltese and thus EU citizenship based on money and a spurious notion of residency. On the other we see the policing of citizenship through the outsourcing and offshoring of border construction. Malta is a semi-permeable membrane. The Maltese Immigration Act that regulates the African arrivals defines a group known as prohibited immigrants – immigrants who are not authorized or whose authorization is invalid because they are unable to support themselves of their families. Once labeled in this way the immigrants are issued a “removal order” which requires that they are removed from Malta – an action that cannot actually take place. Any person with a removal order can then detained.[9] The chief executive of ‘Identity Malta’ wanted to attract the “real high flyers” in order to “add value to our country” through the enrollment of their ideas and networks. Clearly there are other networks they would rather not be part of.

Balibar E, 2004 We, the people of Europe? : reflections on transnational citizenship (Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J.)

Balibar E, 2009, “Europe as borderland” Environment and Planning D-Society & Space 27 190-215

Cresswell T, 2009, “The Prosthetic Citizen: New Geographies of Citizenship” Political Power and Social Theory 20 259-273

Cresswell T, 2010, “Towards a Politics of Mobility” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 28 17-31

Cresswell T, 2013, “Citizenship in Worlds of Mobility”, in Critical Mobilities Eds O Soderstrom, S Randeria, D Ruedin, G D’Amato, F Panese (Routledge, London) pp 81-100

Mountz A, 2011, “The enforcement archipelago: Detention, haunting, and asylum on islands” Political Geography 30 118-128

Rumford C, 2006, “Theorising Borders” European journal of social theory 9 155-169

[1] I am grateful for conversations with Owen Jennings concerning the role of Malta as an island in the politics of migration.

[2] Jenny Anderson, ‘Malta Citizenship and Perks for a Price’ New York Times, Friday May 1, 2015 pages B1 and B7.

[3] For my accounts of this see Cresswell T, 2009, “The Prosthetic Citizen: New Geographies of Citizenship” Political Power and Social Theory 20 259-273, Cresswell T, 2013, “Citizenship in Worlds of Mobility”, in Critical Mobilities Eds O Soderstrom, S Randeria, D Ruedin, G D’Amato, F Panese (Routledge, London) pp 81-100

[4] See Rumford C, 2006, “Theorising Borders” European journal of social theory 9 155-169

[5] Balibar E, 2004 We, the people of Europe? : reflections on transnational citizenship (Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J.), Balibar E, 2009, “Europe as borderland” Environment and Planning D-Society & Space 27 190-215

[6] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-24502279

[7] Mountz A, 2011, “The enforcement archipelago: Detention, haunting, and asylum on islands” Political Geography 30 118-128

[8] Cresswell T, 2010, “Towards a Politics of Mobility” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 28 17-31

[9] For an account of the detention regime in Malta see http://www.globaldetentionproject.org/countries/europe/malta/introduction.html

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