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Citizenship by investment in the 13th century: the right to have rights …… and duties!


Many States are raising capitals and attracting wealthy individuals by “selling” citizenship (Citizenship by investment or CBI). But the concept of acquiring citizenship by a monetary or real estate contribution is not new.


Citizenship in the 13th century

Between the 11th and 13th century Northern and Central Italy was divided in hundreds of city-states (Comuni) which had their own form of independent governments. Within these entities the element of association was fundamental and participation played an essential role. (*)

Initially, in fact, the Comune was constituted by an oath and all those who participated in swearing the oath became CITIZENS.

Citizenship brought with it rights (political rights, privileges and tax exemptions) but at the same time imposed precise duties, such us:

(i) the obligation to reside in the city for a period of time

(ii) the monetary contribution to the City-State

(ii) the duty to own or build a house

(iv) the obligation to defend the City gate in person or through a paid deputy.


Here some examples

The Statute of Siena (1296 a.C.) established that a foreigner could become citizen by submitting an application, to be approved by 2/3 of the City Commission (Consiglio della Campana) and the efficacy of the adjudication was subject to

(i) the payment of “100 soldi” to the Camerlengo; and

(ii) the obligation to build, within one year, a new house to be used as collateral for 10 years toward the City, to guarantee the duties assumed by the individual by becoming a citizen. (**)

In Venice, citizenship could be granted to people or princes who had particular merits and has benefitted the city.

In Florence, the Grand Duke began to bestow Florentine citizenship by “grazia”, as a gift, in exchange for the payment of a tax and the obligation to reside in the city for a period of time.

In the State of Savoy, citizens were obliged to reside in Turin, to make special donations in money to the Duke in case of necessity and to guarantee guard duty at the town gates.


Citizenship by investment in present times

The European Parliament and many scholars — for various reasons — have expressed concerns and objected to this practice. The main argument is that if citizenship becomes a commodity, the perception of citizenship itself — as bond of allegiance with a State and a community — could also be affected.

But is this practice really so bad? Some authors defend the sale of citizenship by pointing out that it is less arbitrary and more transparent than other ways of acquiring citizenship (such as those implied by the principles of jus soli and jus sanguinis, or discretionary naturalisation). Why should those who have citizen parents or who have been born in the state’s territory have a stronger moral claim to citizenship than foreigners who are ready to pay or invest?

It is also argued that monetary investment can be a way of contributing to the common good of a political community and should therefore not be summarily dismissed as a legitimate reason for acquiring citizenship.


Can you obtain Italian citizenship by investment?

In Italy, it is possible to obtain residency — NOT CITIZENSHIP ! — by different forms of investment. There some agencies which advertise the possibility of acquiring citizenship by investing some funds, but this is a wrong information and it is fraud.

Citizenship can be acquired only if someone has Italian ancestors (ius sanguinis), by marriage, by naturalization (after 10 years of residency), for special merits.


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