November 1998 Volume 5 Number 11
Germany: Citizenship Changes
In October, the new SPD-Green coalition government announced its first major policy initiative, reforming Germany's 1913 naturalization law, the Reichs-und Staatsangehoerigkeitsgesetz (RuStAG). Declaring that Germany is "a country of immigrants," the new government proposed German citizenship as a matter of right (Einbuergerungsanspruch) for children born in Germany who have parents without German citizenship.
Also eligible for German citizenship would be children born to couples that include at least one foreign parent who has been living in Germany since the age of 14 years (under current law, one parent must be German for the child to automatically acquire German citizenship).
The new government also would permit dual citizenship for children with the right to become German citizens and would reduce the time a foreigner must live in Germany before applying for naturalization, from the current 15 years to eight years; those under 18 could apply for German citizenship after five years of residence in Germany. Foreigners married to Germans for at least two years and who have lived in Germany for three years, could also apply to become German citizens. In considering applications for asylum, the government will recognize issues specific to women such as ritual genital
SPD leaders predicted that legislation implementing these changes will be approved early in 1999, and could make two to three million German residents into German citizens. Otto Schily, the SPD Interior Minister from Berlin, said that the change in Germany's citizenship law is "long overdue."
The CDU-CSU continues to oppose changes in naturalization law. A spokesperson for the CDU argued that dual citizenship "means that foreigners will have a huge natural advantage over Germans... That means that Germany will be transformed into a land of immigration, a land of unlimited immigration."
Migrant advocates complained that the immigration proposal did not go far enough, especially in facilitating asylum, and criticized the Greens for compromising too easily. For example, asylum applicants in Germany are rejected unless they can show that they are being persecuted by a government, so that, according to advocates, persons from Afghanistan and Somalia are not granted asylum (although they are also not deported).
Turkish-born Ekin Deligoz, 27, was elected to parliament for the Greens in September 1998, one year after she became a German citizen.
Most of the 160,000 Germans of Turkish origin who voted in the September 1998 election supported the SPD. A CSU strategy paper claimed that the proposals to change German citizenship law are "a bare-faced attempt to try to entrench a red-green majority in Germany for decades by the mass creation of voters. It is tantamount to long-term electoral fraud on the German public."
Bosnians/Refugees. The German government expects 85 percent of the 350,000 Bosnians who sought temporary refuge in Germany to be back in Bosnia by the end of 1998. Between January and mid-September 1998, some 115,000 Bosnians returned, bringing the total to 250,000. Bosnian coordinator Dietmar Schlee estimated that 50,000 more would return by the end of 1998. In neighboring Switzerland, about 10,000 Bosnians returned in the past 24 months.
The Rhineland-Palatinate High Court has ruled that German states--which are responsible for deportations--can return Algerians whose applications for asylum were rejected to Algeria. The court ruled that the danger for Algerian civilians from continued fighting is limited. An estimated 65,000 people have been killed in Algeria in massacres and bombings since 1992.
Labor Market. The number of unemployed workers fell below four million in September 1998; the unemployment rate was 10.3 percent. There are projected to be on average 4.2 million unemployed in 1999 and 4.3 million unemployed in 1998, down from 4.4 million in 1997.
In an effort to create more jobs, the outgoing CDU-FDP government permitted employers and employees in jobs that pay less than DM620 a month (DM520 in the East) to avoid payroll taxes that can add 20 to 30 percent to wages. Unions and others associated with the new SPD-Green government opposed this policy of fostering the creation of low-wage jobs, and promised to reduce the tax-free limit. In October 1998, the German union federation DGB proposed that wages over DM200 per month be subject to payroll taxes.
According to the DGB, about 5.5 million of the 35 million jobs in Germany are at or near the low-wage threshold, including 1.4 million jobs in private households.
"German States Can Send Algerian Refugees Back Home, Paper Says," Bloomberg, October 20, 1998. Clive Freeman, "Berlin's Turkish Community welcomes changes in citizenship," Deutsche Presse-Agentur, October 15, 1998. Tony Csuczka, "German Group Seeks Integration," Washington Post, October 15, 1998. Roger Cohen, "Germany, Long a Land of One Volk, Is Becoming Many-Hued," New York Times, October 16, 1998. Schroeder, Greens to reform German citizenship by blood law," Deutsche Presse-Agentur, October 14, 1998. Kevin Cullen, "Schroeder's stance heartens would-be German citizens," Boston Globe, October 7, 1998.