Germany's `guests' fight for the vote

German election: Rivals head for a photo-finish - but millions of workers won't have a say in the final outcome
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The Independent Online
ALGIN ARTAR has a portrait of Kemal Ataturk hanging in the office of his bread factory in Leverkusen, but the coffee he serves visitors is instant, and his preferred language German. "I feel more German than Turkish," he says. "I don't see why I can't have the same rights as a German."

Mr Artar, 31, who has lived in Germany for 20 years, is one of more than seven million people living in the country as temporary residents. Known as "guests", they are often warned by Chancellor Helmut Kohl, in this election campaign speeches, to behave themselves, or face deportation.

Despite paying German taxes and employing 50 people, Mr Artar does not have the vote. In the eyes of the law he is a "foreigner", as is his Turkish wife, born in Germany, and their two children.

Since 1913, German citizenship has been legally defined as a genetic attribute. The descendants of Germans settled in Russia in the 18th century are Germans, and can "return" to Germany. Grandchildren of "guest-workers" who arrived in the Sixties are still "guests".

Most political parties now agree such disenfranchisement of nearly 10 per cent of Germany's population is untenable. The Social Democrats, Greens and even Chancellor Kohl's junior coalition partners, the Free Democrats, want reform. Mr Kohl's Christian Democrats are split on the issue. Only their Bavarian sister party, the right-wing Christian Social Union, are holding out against change.

"This cannot go on," says Cem Ozdemir, a Green MP. "The nationalisation process is too slow. We must urgently establish the right to citizenship, and even automatic right. Children born here, for instance, must be given German nationality at birth."

Mr Ozdemir was born 33 years ago in Germany to Turkish parents. When he applied for German citizenship, he had to show evidence that he had renounced his Turkish nationality. German law does not recognise dual citizenship.

His party and Gerhard Schroder's Social Democrats have both pledged to legalise dual nationality, and to give "foreign" children born in Germany automatic German citizenship.

Conservative politicians fear the prospect. "At one stroke we would have three million new citizens with double passports, which would lead to a shift in the balance of power," says Peter Gauweiler, a prominent Bavarian right-winger. The shift he refers to is towards the left. Most of the immigrants are working class, natural Social Democrat supporters, and would be likely to vote for the parties that give them the passport and the vote.

A German passport would open many doors. Training courses run by the police, state institutions and banks insist on German citizenship. Teaching, the civil service, and many professions exclude foreigners. Until April this year, chimney-sweeps had to be, by law, Germans. Now a European Union passport will suffice.

At the same time, politicians hope the prospect of German citizenship might halt the radicalisation of Turkish youth who are increasingly drawn to Islamic fundamentalism. Shut off from the local community, many find solace in the mosques, some of which are controlled by radical preachers driven out of Turkey.

A new nationality law is expected to be tabled early in the new parliament if Mr Schroder wins the general election on Sunday. A majority in favour of reform existed in the outgoing parliament, but it was torpedoed by Chancellor Kohl's Bavarian allies.

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