Deal Marks a Compromise for Chancellor Angela Merkel
Germany plans to scrap rules forcing young people with immigrant parents to choose between a German passport and their parents’ citizenship, a step that reflects the country’s shifting attitudes toward national identity after decades of immigration.
The deal “sends a signal that [immigrants] are welcome here. It’s a clear signal that we want these young people and they’re part of our society,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said at a news conference Wednesday.
Under the plan, people from migrant backgrounds who were born in Germany will for the first time be able to apply for dual citizenship, a development that is most significant for the country’s sizable Turkish population, although it will uphold an existing ban for later arrivals who choose to become German citizens.
The move is a compromise on the part of Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian Christian Social Union sister party, which have long opposed dual nationality over fears it could lead to split loyalties.
However, the left-of-center Social Democrats had pushed the issue hard in coalition talks: Party leader Sigmar Gabriel said earlier this month there would be no deal without dual nationality, and the party has argued that forcing young people to choose their nationality leads to an identity conflict.
Wednesday’s compromise largely addresses the descendents “guest workers” that came to West Germany during its postwar economic boom of the 1960s and 1970s. This year alone, some 4,500 young people will now be absolved of having to pick citizenship—a number that would have risen to about 45,000 young people by 2018.
“If we force people to decide then we push them into a conflict of loyalties that can’t be repaired,” said Aygül Özkan, a former integration minister for Lower Saxony and a CDU negotiator in the coalition talks.
Non-nationals account for nearly 8% of Germany’s population of 80 million. While the number pales next to the roughly 13% foreign-born populations in the U.S. and U.K., multiculturalism has established more slowly in most European countries, and many—including Germany—have traditionally given favored citizenship rights by blood lines rather than on place of birth or skills.
The Social Democrats tried to introduce dual citizenship while in power in 1999, under Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s center-left coalition with the Greens, but scrapped the idea following conservative pressure and a national petition that garnered more than one million signatures.
Instead, the government compromised on the “option model.” As of 2000, anyone born in the country from 1990 got automatic citizenship until the age of 23, when the children of foreign nationals had to choose either German citizenship or that of their parents. Since then, around 98% opted for a German passport.
The initial decision to legalize dual citizenship for ethnic minorities born in the country is a step forward on Germany’s occasionally rocky path toward multiculturalism, burdened by the country’s history.