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A dual citizenship double standard in Germany

Published: 26 Oct 2011 15:19 GMT+02:00

With all immodesty, I’m a perfectly integrated foreigner in Germany.

I speak German without a thick American accent, I voluntarily opted for state health insurance and, unlike many Germans, I even willingly pay my TV licence fees.

I have a German wife and a half-German child. There’s just one thing I won’t have for the foreseeable future: a German passport.

That’s not because I don’t want one – just the opposite. After almost 14 years in this country, I’d gladly become a German citizen. I would have eagerly voted in the Berlin state election last month. But I don’t care to sacrifice my American passport for the privilege. Fifty years after the first Turks came to Germany, there are millions of people here in a similar situation.

And why should we be forced to abandon our cultural ties? The United States, Canada, Britain, France, Sweden and countless other countries have no problem with dual citizenship. But Germany, so modern in so many ways, sadly still clings to horribly antiquated concepts of nationality.

Some German politicians – often conservative and Bavarian – believe that I and more than two million Turks simply aren’t worthy of German citizenship because we refuse to surrender our other passports.

If I were French, I wouldn’t have this dilemma. I could vote and participate in this country’s political life – despite retaining my old citizenship. Hoping to foster Franco-German friendship, the otherwise so stingy Germans allowed their pals west of the Rhine to have dual citizenship back in 2003. This was a nice gesture however, it also happened to be rather hypocritical one.

Shortly thereafter, Germany was compelled in 2007 to give this right to all EU citizens, and not just the French, since defending such a blatant double standard would have been impossible in the European courts.

But three generations Turkish immigrants – and a few well-integrated Americans – are still discriminated against. I’m aware our countries of origin aren’t part of the European Union, but that doesn’t justify German inconsistency.

I know a Mexican living in Munich who recently became a proud German because Mexico simply refuses to strip people of their citizenship as Germany requires of naturalized immigrants. Once a Mexican, always a Mexican. Yet conservative Bavarian politicians appear to be handling this affront in their midst just fine.

The state premier of Bavaria, Horst Seehofer, and many other German politicians claim you can’t be a loyal German citizen while holding onto a second passport. But speaking as someone with experience in both Europe and America, that’s nationalistic nonsense.

Perhaps Seehofer should ask himself if his conservative colleague David McAllister is qualified to be the premier of Lower Saxony. The Christian Democrat just happens to be half Scottish with both British and German passports. Does anyone seriously question his loyalty to Germany?

Apparently what goes for David the top politician doesn’t apply to Mehmet selling fruit and veg on the corner. Because just like the nasty stereotype that Turks in Germany are only up to being greengrocers, Germany’s immigration policy allows for the clear discrimination against “unwanted” foreigners. This double standard on dual citizenship is an institutionalized form of the prejudice displayed during the acrid integration debate sparked by ex-central banker Thilo Sarrazin last year.

Making matters worse, the so-called Optionspflicht forces many young German citizens to choose between two nationalities simply because their parents are foreigners. It’s almost as if they have to reject their family heritage if they wish to remain German after the age of 23. The centre-left Social Democrats and Greens are supporting an initiative in the upper house of parliament to end this damaging practice, but Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives are staunchly determined to torpedo their efforts.

This is extremely detrimental to integration efforts, since it ensures foreignness is passed from generation to generation. It’s also ironic because it’s often the conservatives warning loudest against the threat of Turkish “parallel societies” in Germany. Allowing dual citizenship, on the other hand, would help ensure most families became thoroughly “German” by the third generation.

This isn’t rocket science – other immigration countries have shown Germany the way. The United States, for example, requires people to prove they spent at least five years there for them to be able to pass on their US citizenship to their offspring born abroad. Such measures are completely acceptable. This isn’t about handing out passports – it’s about someone’s commitment to their new homeland.

Fortunately, my child will never have to choose between Germany and America because my wife is German. But until Germany catches up with the rest of the world, I’ll remain a US citizen – and a German taxpayer.

Marc Young

marc.young@thelocal.de

twitter.com/marcyoung

A version of this commentary was first published in German by the Berlin newspaper Der Tagesspiegel.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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