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So you want to become a German citizen?

AFP · 16 Jun 2008, 17:02

Published: 16 Jun 2008 17:02 GMT+02:00

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Germany has nearly seven million permanent residents without citizenship - but many of those supporting the national team during the European football championships this month will need to do more than just put a German flag on their car to get a passport.

Europe's most populous nation, along with others in Western Europe, is getting older, and the country needs foreigners to plug gaps in its workforce and help fill the state coffers.

But the influx brings other challenges as cultures clash and as foreign workers, their families and asylum-seekers struggle with the mind-numbing der-die-das of German grammar, to say nothing of the bureaucracy.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's government wants to improve integration and it believes fostering a better understanding of her country would help considerably. In an effort to achieve this, it was announced recently that government officials are currently scratching their heads trying to come up with 310 questions to test whether someone applying for citizenship fits the bill.

The new test, which Merkel's cabinet is set to discuss in mid-July, comes on top of other measures already in place such as courses on life in Germany and the language.

The quiz will cost applicants €25 ($38) a go, and they will be given all the questions to study beforehand. When test day arrives, they will have to answer correctly at least 17 of 33 head-scratchers put before them. Those exempted include people who have gone through the German school system, those under 16 years old and older people whose learning capacities are not what they were, according to the Interior Ministry.

Successful applicants also have to have adequate German, no criminal record and have been living in Germany for at least eight years.

As a taster, the government has released eight questions on Germany's political system, its history and its cultural heritage. These include how many states there are in Germany (there are 16), what the role of the opposition in parliament is (depends whom you ask, some might say), and when the Federal Republic of Germany was founded (1949). Another involves having to identify the coat of arms of North Rhine-Westphalia from four shields containing various heraldic symbols like bears, eagles and keys.

If you fail, you can sit it again as many times as you like but the plans - similar to measures already in place in other European countries such as Britain - have not gone down well.

For one thing, some of the questions are too easy, critics say, some are too difficult and some are downright irrelevant.

"Many Germans would not pass the test," said opposition Green MP Hans-Christian Ströbele, a claim backed up by a mini-poll conducted by the daily Berliner Zeitung.

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"Thank goodness that people like us from the GDR (East Germany) didn't have to do a test like this in 1990" at the time of German unification, said Anita Apfel, one of those quizzed by the paper.

Other critics say the test steers clear of what many say is preventing the country's millions of non-Germans integrating into society - common values. The state of Baden-Württemberg, for example, has its own test that includes questions on attitudes to religious freedoms, women's rights and homosexuality, which itself has attracted criticism.

Of course, not all of the 6.7 million non-Germans living here, including 2.3 million from other European Union countries and 1.7 million from Turkey, necessarily want to become citizens.

And with the European Championship still in full swing - and Germany and Turkey potentially heading for a semifinal clash - changing sporting loyalties will certainly prove a tall order.

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