Germany set to ease citizenship laws

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The Independent Online
GERMANY's tightly framed laws on citizenship are under greater pressure than ever before - and now seem certain to be changed.

Children born in Germany do not, at present, have the automatic right to become German citizens. Dual citizenship is not permitted. Conservative politicians had until now resisted calls for changes, on both counts.

But the right-wingers now seem set to retreat. At the weekend, Johannes Gerster, a leading conservative, added his voice to those calling for the introduction of dual citizenship. Mr Gerster also suggested that the period of waiting for citizenship should be reduced from 15 to 10 or eight years.

Cornelia Schmalz-Jacobsen, the government commissioner dealing with foreigners, complained this month of a situation where 'after the fourth, fifth and later generations, one can be born and grow up in Germany and still not be a German, legally speaking'. She put forward proposals whereby the present ius sanguinis, 'law of blood', should be mixed with the ius soli, or 'law of the soil'. A child born in Germany, and both of whose parents live in Germany, would have the automatic right to citizenship - which would mark a radical change.

One reason why the subject of citizenship has risen so high on the agenda in recent months is because of the far-right attacks on foreigners living in Germany. One of the children who died in the fire-bombing last November of a Turkish house in the north German town of Molln was described at the time as a 'German-born Turk', thus emphasising her continuing alienness. There is a growing acknowledgement that the enormous barriers to gaining German citizenship are counter-productive, if Germany seeks social harmony in the years to come.

President Richard von Weizsacker has argued: 'If we make it easier to gain German citizenship - in addition to the existing citizenship, if need be - for those who wish it, then we would both improve their situation, and also help our co-existence.'

A front-page article in this week's Die Zeit, headlined: 'Who is allowed to be a German?' argues that Turks and others living and working in Germany - often, for many years at a time - remain second-class citizens, permanently. 'The nice phrase 'no taxation without representation' means nothing, for them. They are lacking the elementary civic right: they cannot vote, and cannot be elected . . . Only the 'German people' is allowed to vote.'

Certainly, the difficulties are huge. Of around 1.5 million Turks in Germany, only about 1,000 a year gain citizenship. And yet around 30,000 Turkish children are born in Germany every year.

Given the government's concern to show that Germany is auslanderfreundlich - 'friendly to foreigners' - Bonn seems unlikely to reject this latest opportunity for sending a different signal to those living in Germany and to the rest of the world.