Immigration For Members

'Dangerous and wrong': Why German MPs are clashing over citizenship plans

Imogen Goodman
Imogen Goodman - [email protected] • 2 Dec, 2022 Updated Fri 2 Dec 2022 10:43 CEST
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A British and German passport. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Britta Pedersen

In a heated debate in the Bundestag on Thursday, MPs traded blows over plans to liberalise Germany's tough citizenship laws, with both sides accusing each other of "dangerous" behaviour. Here's what the row was all about.

Late on Thursday afternoon, an urgent debate saw emotions running high across the political spectrum as parties fought over what they saw as the future of the German economy and the essence of German identity. 

As MPs from the traffic-light parties - the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) - heckled from the sidelines, CSU politician Andrea Lindholz delivered a scathing attack on what she described as the "irresponsible" and "unprofessional" behaviour of the SPD. 

Instead of pushing through far-reaching reforms, the Interior Ministry should have dealt with the "sensitive" topic of migration and citizenship in a more careful way, she argued. 

"I’m convinced that everyone that wants to become German should give up their previous citizenship," Lindholz said. "Do you think it’s a good thing when German dual nationals take up military service for another country?

"Do you not think people from authoritarian countries should give up their old citizenship?"

READ ALSO: HISTORY: What’s behind the push to reform dual citizenship laws in Germany?

Taking the floor later in the debate, CDU MP Stefan Heck took an even stronger line against the government's plans to allow non-EU citizens to obtain dual nationality in Germany.

“You cannot share national loyalty between two countries," he said, referencing demonstrations in favour of Recep Erdoğan, the president of Turkey, which he claimed numerous Turkish-Germans had participated in.

"The coalition's plans for dual nationality are false, dangerous and they have to be stopped." 

Why is the government clashing with the conservatives?

The debate on citizenship has reopened old wounds from the SPD's time in government with the CDU and CSU, as well as sparking a charged discussion about how politicians talk about migration. 

Tensions had been building throughout the week after CDU parliamentary leader Thorsten Frei accused the government of wanting to "flog off" German nationality.

"The German passport must not become a junk commodity," he told right-wing tabloid Bild on Friday. 

His comments - which were echoed in Bild's headline - were a response to the Interior Ministry's planned citizenship reforms, which include cutting down the years of residence required for German citizenship, allowing non-EU citizens to hold multiple nationalities and lowering language and integration requirements for people from the guest worker generation. 

Referring to the lower requirements for gaining citizenship, Frei accused the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) of turning German nationality into a "Black Friday deal" and lessening its value.

But his words drew fierce opposition during the emergency debate on Thursday, with SPD politician Mahmut Özdemir describing the comments as "shameful". 

"They come out of the same drawer as 'benefits tourism'," he said, referring to the language CDU leader Friedrich Merz had used in recent weeks when describing Ukrainian refugees in Germany. "That drawer should stay closed."

The conservatives' rhetoric was also criticised by Reem Alabali-Radovan (SPD), who accused the CDU and CSU of peddling myths about migration that were "dangerous to society".

"Chancellor Olaf Scholz and I recently met a few people who this relates to: women and men who bring our country further, whose parents and grandparents did the same," she said. 

"Think about these people when you’re throwing around these words: it’s a slap in the face to all those people with a migrant background."

READ ALSO: TEST: Is your German good enough for citizenship or permanent residency?

Citizenship reform plans

The urgent debate had been requested by members of the CDU and CSU parties in order to address the government's proposals for removing barriers to naturalisation.

The conservatives have said they are vehemently opposed to the plans, arguing that the changes remove the incentive to integrate into German society and encourage people to move into the benefits system rather than working.

However, the proposals have drawn support from the left-wing Linke, who argue that denying long-term residents of Germany the right to vote is damaging to democracy.

In a combative speech in the Bundestag on Thursday afternoon, Linke leader Janine Wissler described the idea that the German passport would be devalued by higher levels of naturalisation as "insane".

"What did you do for your German passport, Herr Merz?," she shot at the CDU leader. "Exactly the same as me: nothing. It's a pure accident, it’s a lottery.”

The passport isn't devalued by more people becoming German, Wissler said. "You devalue people with this kind of language."

Currently around 10.7 million people live in Germany without a German passport, meaning they are unable to participate in state and federal elections.

According to Özdemir, around half of this group has lived in the country for seven years or more.

If the government's plans go through, however, non-EU migrants could be able to gain dual nationality as early as next summer. 

READ ALSO: EXCLUSIVE: German Bundestag to debate law allowing dual citizenship in December

An earlier version of this article incorrectly quoted Mr Ariturel Hack, a member of the Berlin State Parliament. We have amended this mistake and attributed the quote correctly to Dr. Stefan Heck who is a member of the German Bundestag. 

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Imogen Goodman 2022/12/02 10:43

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