Cyprus’ inclusion in the Schengen Area would help attract foreign investment and bring a significant advantage over competing European countries, the association of large investment projects said on Tuesday.

During a videoconference with Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides, the association called on the government for incentives to improve Cyprus’ competitiveness and offset “the negative developments” after the abolition of the country’s citizenship-by-investment (CBI) scheme following revelations that state officials were willing to help criminals acquire Cypriot passports.

According to a statement, the association conveyed to the minister the impact on investments from the abolition of the CBI well as the problems faced by entrepreneurs in attracting foreign companies in Cyprus due to the negative climate created by developments due to the Al Jazeera videos.

The government was forced to scrap the CBI which had been running since 2007, after the release last October of a video by Al Jazeera showing the then-House president Demetris Syllouris and Akel MP Christakis Giovani appearing ready to help a Chinese businessman with a criminal record – who it later emerged was fictitious – secure a Cypriot passport.

A few days later the European Commission also said it launched an infringement procedure against Cyprus over the country’s CBI.

The first issue raised with the minister is the process of the Republic of Cyprus’ application to become a member of the Schengen Agreement, which, the association believes would facilitate the attraction of foreign investment and be a significant advantage over competing European countries.

Christodoulides told the association that the process of Cyprus’ joining the Schengen Area is in the third phase of its evaluation. The minister said Cyprus’ accession to the Schengen zone was a priority and expressed optimism that the Republic of Cyprus would not face any problems in its evaluation process for accession.

The association called for expediting of procedures, as joining Schengen “would greatly help both our economic activities and the possibility of attracting foreign investors to the country.”

The association also called for improvement of the permanent residence programme (PRP) in Cyprus, through various incentives, such as for PRP holders to be able to travel but not to reside permanently in other European countries and the UK, without a visa.

The fact that PRP holders cannot work in Cyprus was a disincentive, the association argued, and deprived the state of the corresponding taxation and contributions to social security and Gesy, among other things.

The association also requested that, as in the case of Greece, PRP holders be allowed to rent out real estate. This, they argued, would help increase the number of houses available for rent and reduce rents.

The minister also referred to the issue of promoting economic diplomacy, citing a study by specialised experts abroad, which found that Cyprus needs to be more targeted both in the countries and in the fields of attracting investments, highlighting its strong points.

The goal is to provide incentives to compete with other countries and bring in investors, the minister said, according to the statement.

The association noted that there is an urgent need to enhance the attractiveness and competitiveness of Cyprus and to offer investors speed and at the same time facilities in their transactions.