Western European Countries Tend to Follow a Liberalizing Trend towards Citizenship Policies. Interview with Rainer Bauböck
Interview with Rainer Bauböck, 4 April 2005
MOL: In Central European countries it is being said that the historical traditions of mostly ethnically defined nation-states and nationhood have a strong foundation. In explaining change in citizenship policies in the European Union countries, the development of which you have been following, what place do you see currently for the role of historical traditions vis-a-vis the role of other factors?
RB: In a well-known book published in 1992 Rogers Brubaker compared citizenship policies in France and Germany and argued that their historically different traditions of civic versus ethnic nationhood explained why access to citizenship has been much easier for immigrants in France than in Germany. However, in 1999 Germany adopted a new citizenship law that is in some respects now more inclusive than the French legislation. For example, children born in the country to an immigrant parent who has been a legal resident for 8 years become automatically German at birth whereas they will have to wait until adolescence before they are offered French citizenship.
Historic traditions and the distinction between ethnic and civic nationhood are increasingly irrelevant for explaining legislative changes. Citizenship policies in Western Europe have become influenced by general debates about immigrant integration. The polarization between different positions in these debates is quite similar in those European countries that have received immigration over more than two decades. Some recent immigration countries in Southern Europe still have not fully entered the debate about citizenship for immigrants but may do so eventually.
In many countries of Central Eastern Europe, citizenship policies appear to be more strongly shaped by concerns about expatriates, diasporas, and ethnic kin minorities in neighboring countries than by immigration. This helps to explain why the overtones of ethnic nationalism are often stronger in this region. One has to point out, however, that a number of Western European countries, among them Germany, Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece, have also pursued for a long time policies of preferential access to citizenship for persons who are considered ethnic or linguistic relatives.
MOL: How difficult was or has it been in Austria to bring about changes in citizenship law to reflect the immigration reality?
RB: Very difficult. Austria's most recent amendment of the citizenship act in 1998 introduced German language requirements for all naturalizations and excluded from naturalization people with convictions for very minor offences. It retained the general residence requirement of 10 years and the 30 years period for a legal entitlement to naturalization. The law does not contain any ius soli provisions and is among the most restrictive in Europe with regard to dual nationality. To the big surprise of the law's authors, however, naturalizations have still skyrocketed in recent years, moving up from below 10.000 year in 1990 to 45.000 in 2003. The explanation for this is not a liberal law, but the fact that the large immigration cohorts of 1990-1993 have now reached the 10 years threshold. An important additional factor is a change in the attitude towards naturalization among Turkish immigrants that was brought about by changing legislation in Turkey (rather than in Austria), which allows them to retain property and inheritance rights and to avoid military service in Turkey when they naturalize abroad.
Reacting to this increase in naturalizations, the Austrian Minister of the Interior has recently announced plans to tighten conditions for naturalization even further in order to reduce the numbers. Austria has thus still not accepted that being a country of immigration implies encouraging immigrants to become citizens rather than deterring them from doing so.
MOL: You have been involved in a comparative research on citizenship policies. Could you, please, briefly describe current trends in citizenship policies in Europe?
RB: Comparative research documents a general, but uneven, tendency of convergence in Western Europe towards shorter residence requirements for naturalization, towards combing citizenship by descent (ius sanguinis) with some form of ius soli (citizenship through birth in the territory) and greater toleration for dual citizenship (not merely when acquired at birth, which is now generally accepted, but also in naturalizations).
There are, however, several countries that have resisted this liberalizing trend (among them Austria, Denmark and Greece) and others that have recently moved towards new restrictions. The Netherlands have, for example, become less tolerant of dual nationality and are currently changing legislation to make naturalization more difficult overall. A number of countries have also strengthened or newly introduced the requirement that applicants for naturalization must pass a language test or a test of knowledge about the country and its constitution.
It is important to point out that the European Union has played a very minor role in bringing about this convergence. The EU does not have any formal policy competence in nationality law, which means that the 25 Member States are free to regulate access to the common citizenship of the Union under their own particular laws. The Council of the EU has, however, at its Tampere meeting in 1999 asserted that Member States should provide the opportunity for long-term legally resident third-country nationals to obtain the nationality of the State where they reside. This indicates an interest in promoting mutual learning between Member States and the emergence of standards for good policies.