The Political Dimension of the New Citizenship Law in Germany Features
The Political Dimension of the New Citizenship Law in Germany
Mykyta Vorobiov is a Ukrainian-born political analyst, journalist, and political science student at Bard College Berlin. For the last two years, he has been developing articles on politics and law for CEPA, VoxEurop, JURIST, and others. Mykyta’s co-author Yelyzaveta Nezhyva is a Ukrainian activist and a political science student at Bard College Berlin. Over the past two years, she has been closely involved in helping Ukrainian refugees through volunteer organisations in Vienna and Berlin .

On January 19, the German Parliament approved a package of significant amendments to the citizenship law in a second reading.  On June 26, the law enters force. The country substantially simplified the procedure of obtaining German citizenship and attempted to deal with the issues that have piled up over the past decades. Among the core changes is the alteration of the minimum duration of living in Germany from 8 years to 5 years to be able to apply for citizenship. Furthermore, the law allows a person to apply for citizenship after just three years of stay in the country in cases of exceptional integration success. 

Moreover, the government abolished the provision of the law that required applicants to renounce their previous citizenship when getting a German one, and allowed Germans not to renounce their German passport when naturalizing abroad, in fact allowing dual citizenship. Also, the law has expanded the list of violations after committing which person is not eligible to become a German citizen. Each of these amendments raised heated debates between parties and politicians and made it one of the hottest topics of political discussions in Germany in recent months.  

The amendment that has been criticized the most by right-wing politicians was allowing people to apply for German citizenship after three years in exceptional cases. The centre-right opposition criticized such a provision: “The value of our citizenship as a central incentive for integration is being lost. As the integration takes time and is more than work and language, the naturalisation periods are not just a waiting period but a conscious test period within which the naturalisation applicant can prove that they have integrated and identify with our rules and values.”- German Christian Democratic Union (CDU) said.

The amendment is indeed revolutionary, making Germany a country with one of the fastest tracks for naturalization in Europe. However, legal experts have warned that the prerequisites for using the fast track are vague, and the amount of people who could benefit from it would probably be very limited. 

While Germany’s Economy Ministry repeatedly raises alarms about the shortage of skilled workers affecting Germany’s economy, such an amendment could change the game. An opportunity to receive citizenship in 3 years for extraordinary educational, professional achievements, or social commitment (volunteer work) makes a fast track tempting for skilled professionals. The C1 German language proficiency requirement ensures that the candidate has proper integration capacity and desire. Considering that in 2023, 1.8 million jobs remained unfilled in the German economy as a whole, such an attempt to attract professionals could improve the state of affairs. 

Currently, in Berlin, 8k foreigners acquire citizenship per year. The plan is to more than double this number, making it 20k people annually. However, there are some bureaucratic constraints that need to be overcome in order to do so. As of 01.01.2024, more than 40,000 naturalisation applications are awaiting processing only in Berlin. 

The new law addressed the issue of many thousands of people of Turkish origin who moved to Germany from 1974 to 1990 when the Federal Republic of Germany was attracting manual labor from abroad. According to the data, several hundred thousand Turks emigrated to Germany in this period as contract workers and helped the German economic miracle happen. 

Currently, the number of people of Turkish origin in Germany is estimated to be around 3 million, making them a large share of German society and one of the biggest diasporas in the country. Previously, the law prevented the residents of countries where dual citizenship was forbidden from naturalisation without renouncing their previous citizenship. Thus, before accepting the law, mainly, residents of the EU countries were able to keep the passport of their origin. Hakan Demir, the rapporteur of this law from the Social Democratic Party ( SPD ) in the German Parliament, believes that this judicial loophole needs to be improved: “ So there shouldn’t be a difference between an Italian person and a Turkish person. Why should we do that?” 

Loss of citizenship is not as nuanced as conditions under which one is banned from citizenship eligibility. “Anti-Semitic, racist or other inhumanely motivated actions are incompatible with the human dignity guarantee of the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany and violate the free democratic basic order within the meaning of this law” – is written on the Bundestag website. A very heated debate has sparked over the first point. This topic has divided German society after the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war in October 2023. Germany has one of the most pro-Israeli positions in the world, stating that it does not agree with the claims that Israel commits genocide in Gaza and is ready to intervene in the genocide case against Israel in the ICJ. 

In the German capital, Berlin, both massive pro-Israeli and pro-Palestian demonstrations took place, and the public debates around this war remained heated. 

A right-wing coalition used this war to advocate against dual citizenship. The opposition stated that “the general acceptance of multiple nationalities does not promote cohesion in our country. On the contrary, it becomes clear again and again that naturalisation must be accompanied by a clear commitment to our fundamental values – the most recent example was the frightening extent of anti-Semitic attacks on German streets after the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel on October 7, 2023.”

That was the reason why CDU advocated for stricter laws and the possibility of not only being rejected as an applicant but losing German citizenship for denying Israel’s right to exist.  

Saxony-Anhalt federal land (the CDU stronghold) introduced a requirement for applicants to affirm in writing that they recognise Israel’s ‘right to exist and condemn any efforts directed against’ its existence. Hakan Demir mentioned that the federal land does not have a right to do so. The law will come into force in summer, thus, all the nuances emerging from the lack of official clarification will be gone by that time. The law will provide a binding framework for all federal lands, and Saxony-Anhalt is no exception.

Even though such a provision did not get into the final version of the law, the manifestation of antisemitism will remain as the point for denying or losing German citizenship in the final draft of the new law. “Everyone who wants to have German citizenship needs to accept and recognize the history of Germany and responsibilities …that are coming from this”- Hakan Demir underlined.

The law was accepted in the second reading with 382 votes for, 234 against, and 97 abstentions. One of the two most popular political parties, the centre-right CDU, wholeheartedly opposed it or abstained from voting. The same did the far-right populist party, Alternative for Germany (AfD), with alarming anti-immigrant rhetoric. The last stated that “two-thirds of Germans do not want naturalization to be simplified and speak of a ‘sell-out’ (Verarschung) of their citizenship.”

On the contrary, the socially liberal coalition of the German Bundestag, namely, the main centre-left Social Democracy Party (SPD), the Greens, and the Free Democratic Party, voted mainly for these amendments. The German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, a member of the SPD, became one of the biggest advocates for these amendments, stating that this law is a clear message for people living in Germany and feeling there at home that it is their home. At the same time, he proposed to digitalise the process of asylum-seeking applications and deport all the applicants who were not granted the protection status. According to Hakan Demir, the SPD realises that each refusal, regarding the right to stay in the country, is a personal tragedy, thus, the government tries to develop pathways for each specific case and not unite, f.e. economic migrants and refugees into the same group. Through these measures, the country will be able to accommodate more people legally. Germany is also encouraging other European countries to be more receptive towards refugees. 

The German Ministry of Economy and Finance claimed that Germany does not have a shortage of workers countrywide but rather shortages in sectors where skilled workers are required. Thus, through these steps, Germany reins in the migration flow to the country, showing its preference for high-skilled migrants. Hakan Demir stated that Germany especially needs this law now because, according to data, in 2035, 7 million people will retire. Thus, the government wants to replace the generation born in 1955-1966 with other skilled workers. 

The new law became a comprehensive solution to the problems of the past decades. Germany has cemented its focus on the sophisticated migration policy and the naturalization of skilled workers, united by the same values and coming from all over the world. Such a law allowed the German government to reinvent the idea of what it is to be «German» and who are «Germans», making significant changes which led to giving the right to be a German citizen not by the chance of birth but by the will to become one and adherence to the number of values. 

Moreover, the recent geopolitical events played a significant role in the law’s final version, and it is safe to claim that the law could have looked a lot more different if not for the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war in October 2023. 

The amendments are properly coming into power this summer; thus, the consequences will be apparent later. Still, it could already be called a revolutionary package due to the changes it has made and their significance. The socially liberal coalition, with Olaf Scholz as its leader, keeps its course towards liberalizing German laws and updating them to current German realities. The new citizenship law became a part of the bigger project, which will allow Germany, as a country, which receives more refugees than migrants to manage this process. 

Olaf Scholz`s term already signifies the change in the political discourse in Germany, with his idea to change the previous narratives and support Ukraine by military means and, now, to liberalize the legal sphere. Since 2021, when the 16 years of conservative Angela Merkel`s rule came to an end, Germany has been moving ahead in its reformative phase, and this law pushed by the left-wing coalition is another signifier of this.

According to Hakan Demir, the SPD has been holding its position that proper migration laws are needed for the past two decades and, now, finally had a chance to turn these dreams into reality. The discussions inside the liberal coalition were hectic on some occasions, such as the minimal required salary for becoming a citizen, however, through compromises, Bundestag members managed to accept several laws of great importance.