(By Olga Gulina) Influential regions of Germany are proposing changes to some of the most sensitive issues of the country’s immigration policies. The lands of Brandenburg, Bremen, Hamburg, Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Schleswig-Holstein, and Baden–Wuerttemberg have jointly prepared and publicly presented amendments to the current federal law on citizenship. The legislative draft has been sent for consideration to the Bundesrat (the Upper House of the German Parliament). According to multiple comments, the proposed changes are innovative and visitor-friendly.
The draft proposal announces the waiver of admission fees on citizenship for all foreign applicants. It envisages granting citizenship to spouses of German citizens without the passing of a German language test, which is currently mandatory for all third-country nationals. It makes possible granting citizenship to persons who have attended high schools in Germany and introduces dual citizenship for all third-countries nationals living in Germany.
The current German citizenship law – with its mandatory German language requirements for newcomers and dual citizenship available exclusively for EU nationals – is perhaps the most conservative in the whole European Union. The jus sanguinis norms in particular, were established by the “Prussian Law on Citizenship of 1842,” and they survived the German Imperium, the Third Reich, the post-Second World War division, and the reunification of Germany. It was not until 2000 that the law recognized that citizenship can be a matter of choice and allowed children to acquire German citizenship based on their birth in the territory of Germany. In other words, the current Law on Citizenship requires holders of German and foreign passports to decide which citizenship they would like to retain by the age of 23, except EU nationals.
German citizenship issue have simmered as a hot topic in a German society that is increasingly diverse. Dual citizenship became a high-profile issue in German political debates mostly due to the numerous Turkish nationals living in Germany and their holding of passports of both countries. So far, Germany refused to sign a bilateral agreement with Turkey allowing for holding dual citizenship, as is the case of Germany’s agreement with, for example, the United States, Israel, Brazil, and Nigeria. The forthcoming federal election in September 2013 spurred a new round of discussions on this flammable issue. The FDP, Green Party, and SPD support dual citizenship for foreign nationals living in the country:
“As liberals, we are for tolerance and openness,” claimed Sabine Leyutheyusser–Schnarrenberg, Justice Minister from the FDP party.
Sigmar Gabriel, the SPD leader, echoed: “we are for dual citizenship that makes it easier for foreigner nationals to be German.”
Yet the CDU/CSU party are strongly against it. During the Integration Summit in May 2013, German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her “personal conviction that we want to stick to the choice-based model whereby a decision on citizenship has to be taken at age 23.” Since 1999, when the CSU representative Roland Koch won his Landtag campaign in Hessen with the “No dual citizenship” motto, his political mates refused to consider the dual citizenship arrangement. Thus, the minister-president of the federal land of Hessen Voelker Bouffier (CSU) opines that “dual citizenship and second passport mean a complete failure of our integration policies. Moreover, it is the recognition that a person is at a crossroads, in the grip of the two states.”
The situation is complicated by the fact that neither proponents of the dual citizenship, nor their opponents have a majority in the German Parliament. However, this could be changed after the election in September 2013, provided that SPD, FDP, and the Green party maintain their unity on this issue.
What is clear right now is that these debates in Germany, an EU standard-setter, will certainly have repercussions all across Europe.
Olga Gulina received her Ph.D. in law from Potsdam University. She is a former 'Galina Starovoitova research fellow' at the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies (Washington, D.C.). Olga Gulina's contribution was invited by PONARS Eurasia member Andrey Makarychev.