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June 1999, Volume 6, Number 6

Germany: Option Model Approved

In May, 1999, Germany approved the "option model" reform of Germany's citizenship law, which provides dual nationality to persons born of foreign parents beginning January 1, 2000. Between the ages of 18 and 23, young people with dual nationality must choose to become exclusively German or lose their German nationality, unless the dual national cannot be released from his non-German citizenship. The new law also reduces from 15 to eight years the minimum time that a foreigner must live in Germany before applying for naturalization.

On May 7, 1999, 365 members of the 609-member German Bundestag voted to approve the new law. The Bundesrat, the upper house of Parliament, passed the reform on May 21. The citizenship reforms are one of the first significant domestic achievement of the SPD-Green coalition government elected in 1998.

In order to become Germans, foreigners will have to be able to speak German, show they are not on welfare and sign a statement saying they respect Germany's constitution. Foreigners who have been sentenced to prison terms of nine months or more in Germany will not be eligible to naturalize. The 450,000 foreigners who have lived in Germany for more than 30 years will be able to naturalize and keep the passport issued by their country of origin.

The Bavarian Christian Social Union said that it would ask Germany's constitutional court to declare the new law unconstitutional. Gunther Beckstein, the Bavarian Interior minister, claimed that up to 50 per cent of children born to Turkish residents are sent back to Turkey for schooling, re-emerging in Germany in adulthood without speaking a word of German. Five million Germans signed a CDU/CSU petition against the original citizenship reform, which would have permitted dual nationality on a routine basis. However, Germany's newly elected president, Social Democrat Johannes Rau, pledged to be "a partner for all people, also those without a German passport, who live and work among us."

In March, Germany's supreme administrative court held that leaders of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) have no immediate right to asylum in Germany, but they also cannot be deported as long as there is a risk that they will be executed or tortured in Turkey. The PKK has been banned in Germany since November 1993.

Three large German cities have more than 20 percent foreign residents: Frankfurt, 28 percent; Stuttgart, 24 percent; and Munich, 22 percent.

Economy. Germany's labor office reported that that it had detected 406,000 cases of illegal employment in 1998 and levied fines of DM225 million. Most of the cases were in construction.

Germany's unemployment rate fell to 10.7 percent in April 1999, leaving 4.1 million jobless. The jobless rate in the former east is twice the rate in the west: 17.8 compared to nine percent and the rate for foreigners is twice the rate for Germans.

Some 2.5 million persons were employed in the German construction industry in 1998; 1.8 million in the west and 0.7 million in the east. A special program aimed at reducing youth unemployment will provide subsidies of DM26,500 ($14,700) to employers in the east for each apprenticeship they offer.

Beginning April 1, 1999, employers and workers in jobs that pay less than DM630 a month must pay social security (10 percent) and health insurance (12 percent) taxes. Employers have protested vigorously, as have nonprofit organizations that often pay part-time workers less than DM630 a month. There are 5.6 million jobs in Germany that pay less than DM630 a month, and estimates of the number of jobs that will be eliminated because of the new payroll taxes range from 800,000 to one million. The government says that DM630 workers will be better off with payroll taxes because they will gain rights to social security, and there will be less "false self employment."

A May 1999 survey estimated that almost seven million Germans would be affected by the new payroll taxes, and that almost one million low-wage jobs would disappear.

A new National Association of Turkish Retailers and Wholesalers has been formed as a subgroup of the Central Association of German Retailers to represent the 50,000 Turkish-origin business people in Germany. Turkish food retailers handle about three percent of all food sales in Germany.

Enrollment in the 335 government-supported institutions of higher education has almost doubled since 1997, from one million to 1.8 million--there are 38,000 professors. The average time to a degree in a German university is 6.5 years.

Foreign students are currently permitted to remain in Germany for up to 10 years, with their residence permits renewed annually. One proposal would increase the maximum stay to 15 years, permit states to issue two-year residence permits to foreign students and permit foreign students to work part-time and include these anticipated earnings in Germany in their proof of sufficient funds to study.

Turkey. Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit will remain Turkey's leader, even though his Democratic Left Party won only 22 percent of the vote on April 18, 1999; Ecevit formed a coalition government with the Nationalist Action Party, which won 18 percent of the vote. The Islamic-oriented Virtue Party won 16 percent. One of its deputies was denied her seat in Parliament when she refused to take off her headscarf. The 1995 election produced an Islamic-led government that the military forced from power in 1996.

Turkish law requires that parties receive 10 percent of the vote nationwide in order to win seats in the 550-member Parliament. Voting for candidates of one of 21 competing parties is mandatory for the 38 million eligible Turks; nonvoters are subject to fines. Turkey accepted 1.6 million immigrants between 1923 and 1998, including many ethnic Turks from Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Romania and Greece under the provisions of agreements signed in 1923.

Imre Karacs, "Germany ends ethnic apartheid law," The Independent, May 8, 1999. Michael Adler, "Germany makes historic change in nationality law," Agence France Presse, May 21, 1999. "Germany Moves to Ease its Citizenship," Chicago Tribune, May 8, 1999. "German Czech police smash ring that smuggled in 40,000 migrants," Agence France Presse, April 29, 1999. "Turkey Absorbed 1.6 Million Immigrants in 1923-1998," A.A., April 15, 1999.