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March 1999, Volume 6, Number 3

Germany: Dual Nationality Change

Seven of the German states (Laender) are holding elections in 1999. On February 7 in Hesse, the first of the state elections replaced the eight-year old SPD-Green government by a coalition of the CDU and FDP. The vote was 44 percent for the CDU; 39 percent for the SPD; seven percent for the Greens; and five percent for the FDP.

The outcome of the Hesse election forced the SPD-Green government to modify the dual nationality proposal. Under the "option model" being discussed, children born in Germany of foreign residents would be considered German citizens, but they would have to choose one nationality at age 18 or 23, rather than being able to retain two passports for life, as originally proposed. This modification moves the SPD-Green proposal very close to the FDP proposal to give children born of foreign parents in Germany dual nationality until age 23, when they would have to choose one nationality.

Analysts credited the CDU-FDP victory in Hesse to the CDU's petition drive against the federal SPD-Green government's proposed dual nationality law. Outgoing state Governor Hans Eichel said that, "The double citizenship law issue became so emotional that it mobilized the opposition."

One of the new federal government's first proposals after being elected in September 1998 was to reduce the period of residence to qualify for naturalization from 15 to eight years, and to let foreigners keep their old nationality after becoming naturalized German citizens.

About 500,000 of the 4.3 million voters in Hesse signed a petition against the proposed law and exit polls found that 36 percent of voters said proposed changes to the citizenship laws were their major worry, compared to 43 percent who worried about unemployment. By mid-February, the CDU announced that more than one million Germans had signed the anti-dual nationality petition. Former interior minister Manfred Kanther said the vote indicated "a clear majority against dual citizenship... It is now clear that we must curb the influx of immigrants." The CDU said that it supports the "integration of foreigners and their children... But citizenship ...requires a clear decision for Germany. That is why we are against dual citizenship."

The Hesse state election had federal consequences. The SPD-Green federal government lost its majority in the 69-vote Bundesrat, which must approve some legislation.

Opponents of dual nationality used the violent protests by Kurds in Germany during mid-February to argue that Germany should not permit dual nationality. They argued that Kurdish protesters who commit crimes during violent demonstrations could not be deported if they had German citizenship.

Germany's rightist National Democratic Party held a demonstration in Magdeburg in Saxony-Anhalt in former East Germany, where unemployment is almost 20 percent. Among the prominent slogans were some saying "Turkey for the Turks, Germany for the Germans." A counterdemonstration had banners that read "No human being is illegal."

Asylum. Germany has the rotating presidency of the EU for the first six months of 1999, and one of the government's aims is to develop a voluntary distribution of asylum seekers throughout the EU while Germany has the chair. Under the German proposal, EU nations would accept either asylum seekers or provide financial support to countries that do. About one-third of the almost 300,000 asylum seekers in 1998 arrived in Germany.

French representatives expressed worries that a plan for the distribution of people or money could increase unwanted immigration. However, Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar in March 1999 proposed a ECU 3 billion fund to help EU states that care for refugees and asylum seekers. Germany is seeking to reduce its net contribution to the EU, and Spain's proposal was seen as an effort to provide assistance for Germany without reducing regional aid for Spain.

Labor Market. The SPD-Green government plans to levy a 10 percent tax for health insurance and 12 percent for social security on so-called DM630 jobs --jobs that pay less than DM630 a month ($366). The new 22 percent lump-sum employer-paid taxes would raise the cost to the employer of such jobs, which many experts think would reduce the number of job available to unskilled immigrants.

IG Metall, the 3.4 million-member union in the auto, steel and electronics industries, threatened to strike to win a 6.5 percent wage increase; employers offered 2.3 percent, and the compromise settlement in February 1999 was 3.2 percent. Ford Germany employs 40,000 people of 48 different nationalities; over 50 percent of Ford Germany's employees are foreigners.

More Germans are finding jobs in the Netherlands, and Dutch firms have started to advertise in Germany for workers--at least 1,000 Germans are employed in Limburg, at wages 15 to 20 percent lower than German levels. The German unemployment rate is over 10 percent; the Dutch rate is less than five percent.

Roger Cohen, "Right-Wing March Showcases Germany's Disenchanted," New York Times, February 28, 1999. Roger Cohen, "Hatred, Born of a Hitlerian Mix, on March Again," New York Times, February 24, 1999. Tony Czuczka, "Germany Nixes Dual Citizenship Plan," Associated Press, February 24, 1999. Denis Staunton, "Germany abandons citizenship reform plan," Irish Times, February 11, 1999.