The German government last week approved a draft bill that aims to guarantee the rights of people affected in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
By addressing social security, education, citizenship, as well as business and finance issues, the government hopes it will be able to cushion the effects of Brexit on everyday life.
As Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated last week, EU countries want an ‘orderly’ exit by the UK that includes a withdrawal agreement in place that everyone is more or less happy with.
But if there is no-deal, which seems likely at the moment as the UK government grapples with in-fighting and the British Prime Minister Theresa May tries to save her original deal, it could cause havoc for businesses and citizens living in the EU – and some people’s rights may be lost.
“The German government is counting on the orderly withdrawal of the UK from the European Union,” the cabinet said in a statement. “At the same time, though, it is taking precautions in case it proves impossible to come to a comprehensive withdrawal agreement.”
Daniel Tetlow, who co-founded British in Germany (BiG) with Jane Golding, said the group was “impressed” by the way the German government was preparing for Brexit and the possible event of a no-deal.
Tetlow, who lives in Berlin, told The Local: “They’re obviously in a difficult position because we still have no clarity on what the outcome is going to be. The fact that laws are already going through the Bundestag is positive.”
Angela Merkel speaking in Brussels on Friday. Photo: DPA
Currently Germany allows dual citizenship only to other EU nationals, so British people who want to become German after Brexit would technically have to give up their passport after the UK leaving date of March 30th, 2019.
To avoid this, the cabinet has approved legislation that means anyone who’s applied for German citizenship before March 30th next year will be able to keep both passports in the event of a no-deal scenario, even if the decision on their citizenship is made after the Brexit leaving date.
“They will be entitled to hold dual citizenship to ensure that they are not adversely affected by the length of time required to process their application,” the cabinet statement said.
Separately, the German government is preparing a law that would would allow dual citizenship for applications made during the Brexit transition period, which ends on December 31st, 2020. However, this would only be the case if a withdrawal agreement was in place, not in a no-deal situation.
Tetlow said citizenship is “crucial” for many Brits because they will have to decide whether they want to give up their British citizenship if they want to get a German passport after Brexit.
“Some of the scenarios have been decided but they can’t decide for sure until they know what’s happening, depending on the outcome of the next three months,” said Tetlow pointing to the fact that things are up in the air until we know how Brexit will happen.
Social security protection
On the issue of social security, the draft law aims to make sure people who have contributed to both the German and British systems before Brexit maintain their rights, such as health insurance, long-term care insurance, unemployment benefits, pension and accident insurance, even in the event of a no-deal scenario.
The same applies to older people who are living in the UK and receiving a German pension. They will retain their rights even if there is no withdrawal agreement, the cabinet says.
Education and work
The government has also approved a bill which which allows for transitional regulations on employment promotion, pre-retirement part-time working and temporary workers.
On the issue of education, the draft law aims to make sure British trainees and students who have started a training course or a degree in Germany, and vice versa, will be able to complete their education in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
They will also still be entitled to student loans under the BAöG financial support scheme, even after March 30th 2019, and in the case of a no-deal.
Tax payers are protected
Brexit will also have financial consequences so the cabinet has also adopted a draft Brexit Tax Accompanying Act. It aims to ensure that Germany’s financial market will remain stable so it can continue to operate.
The draft bill includes regulations in taxation, the financial market and labour law. It aims to make sure tax payers are protected from any adverse impacts of Brexit in Germany.
Plus if the UK leaves the EU without a withdrawal agreement, the bill provides for financial market regulations, to prevent adverse impacts on the German business partners of British financial services companies.
Will Brits need to re-register?
British in Germany co-founder Tetlow said the group has been in regular contact with authorities to consult on the steps the government is taking.
He said they could see how seriously the government is taking it “and how supportive they’ve been of the 120,000 Brits living in Germany right now”.
However, some things are still up unclear, such as if Brits will have to re-register in Germany (a constitutive registration) or whether it’s an automatic registration that would come from the ‘Anmeldung’ that people living here have already done (a declaratory registration).
The German government hasn’t said how it will go forward with this. The decision may be influenced by the Brexit negotiations in the UK and Brussels.
Other topics that are being considered are qualifications – when Brits come to Germany in the future, how will their qualifications be recognized in Germany?
Furthermore, what about the British people who’ve arrived before Brexit and those who arrive after? They are likely to have different statuses, said Tetlow, although the details haven’t been decided yet.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May in Brussels on Friday. Photo: DPA
What about people who can’t get citizenship?
Tetlow said BiG is in negotiation with the government, trying to get more clarity on the rights of British people in Germany. For example, he said there are many Brits, often young people, who do not have the sufficient years living in Germany needed to be able to apply for citizenship.
Officially you need eight years, a time which is shortened to three years if you’re married to a German, plus there are other requirements.
“So many people will fall through the net just to apply for citizenship,” said Tetlow.
“That’s a major concern for us: what will their status be?”
The group is recommending that every British person in Germany goes to their local Bürgeramt to discuss citizenship, no matter how long they’ve been in the country.
“There’s a lot of flexibility with the German Bürgeramt, you don’t have to tick all the boxes basically,” he said.
“For instance if you’ve been a really engaged member of the community, that’s in your favour. If you’ve got German children that’s in your favour. There’s all sorts of things that are flexible. The government appears to certainly employ a degree of reasonable discretion when it comes to what is required for residency or citizenship.”
Tetlow said Brits should have a conversation with the workers dealing with citizenship at the Bürgeramt “just so you’re in the picture”.
“We absolutely recommend all Brits however long they’ve been here, go along to the Bürgeramt and have that conversation,” he said. “A lot of people are being encouraged to apply even if they don’t have the full number of years.”
'People moved to Germany in good faith'
Last wednesday BiG held a Stammtisch – a meet up – in 17 different locations around Germany. Hundreds of people turned up at meeting points in towns and cities, including in Bremen, Heidelberg and Hamburg, to discuss Brexit and how they are feeling about it.
Brits attend the Frankfurt Stammtisch hosted last week by British in Germany. Photo: DPA
Tetlow told The Local that people are generally feeling “annoyed and insecure with so little being clear”.
“People have made decisions about moving their lives or their families to Germany or to the EU, and many people who moved before any of this Brexit stuff happened moved in good faith and moved on the assumption that they would have the rights as EU citizens for the rest of their lives,” he said.
For this reason BiG is arguing that those people who moved to Germany without any knowledge of Brexit should have their rights retained.
“They moved in good faith, people made life long decisions about their lives, about their jobs, their professions on the basis of the rights they have as European citizens.”
Are you a British person in Germany? How do you feel about Brexit? Let us know.