BERLIN (AP) — Germany’s social-liberal government is moving ahead with plans to relax the rules for acquiring citizenship in the European Union’s most populous country, a move that has come under attack from the conservative opposition.
Chancellor OIaf Scholz said in a video message on Saturday that Germany has long since become “the land of hope” for many, and that it is good if people rooted in the country decide to take up citizenship.
“Germany needs better rules for the naturalization of all these wonderful women and men,” Scholz said.
The citizenship rule review is one of a series of modernizing reforms that the tripartite coalition of Scholz’s centre-left Social Democrats, environmentalist Greens and pro-business Free Democrats agreed to tackle when it took office last December. The Interior Ministry said on Friday that the draft law is “almost ready”.
Last year’s coalition agreement requires people to become eligible for German citizenship after five years, or three years in the case of ‘special integration achievements’, instead of the current eight or six years. Children born in Germany automatically become citizens if one parent has been legally resident in the country for five years.
The government also wants to drop the restrictions on having dual nationality. In principle, most people from countries other than members of the European Union and Switzerland currently have to give up their previous nationality when acquiring German citizenship, although there are some exceptions.
Secretary of the Interior Nancy Faeser argued that reducing the waiting time to qualify for citizenship “is an incentive for integration”.
The goal is to reflect reality, she said Friday. “We are a diverse, modern immigration country and I think the legislation should reflect that.”
Official statistics show that about 131,600 people took German citizenship last year, a quarter of them citizens of other EU countries. This number was 20% higher than last year, partly because more and more Syrians were naturalized. The total population of Germany is about 84 million.
The Union’s main centre-right opposition bloc rejects plans to liberalize naturalization laws.
“Selling German citizenship cheaply does not encourage integration – it aims at the exact opposite and will create additional ‘pull effects’ for illegal migration,” senior Conservative MP Alexander Dobrindt told the Saturday edition of the daily Bild.
“Five years is a very, very short time” for people to qualify for citizenship, union leader Thorsten Frei told ZDF television.
Among other liberalization plans, the government has removed from Germany’s penal code a ban on doctors “advertising” abortion services. It has lowered the minimum voting age in European Parliament elections from 18 to 16 and wants to do the same for national elections.
It also wants to scrap and replace 40-year-old legislation requiring transsexuals to undergo a psychological assessment and a court decision before officially changing gender with a new ‘self-determination law’. And it aims to decriminalize the possession of limited amounts of cannabis and allow its sale to adults for recreational purposes in a controlled market.
Some plans could run into trouble in the upper house of parliament, which represents Germany’s 16 state governments and where Scholz’s coalition lacks a majority. It was supposed to water down elements of a review of unemployment benefits to do that this week.