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Germany

Dual citizenship is a touchy subject in Germany

Germany's a land of immigrants - on that politicians agree. But allowing dual citizenship is a different story. At age 23, migrant children today must choose between countries. Social Democrats want to change that.

Martin Jungnickel does not feel comfortable in his own skin. The burly man with the white beard and balding head works for the government in the German city of Darmstadt, near Frankfurt in central Germany. Jungnickel and his staff help migrants who are hoping to get a German passport.

This year alone, however, the Darmstadt official has had to withdraw the passports of 40 young people. They were youths who were born in Germany, who have spent their whole lives here. In the jargon of German bureaucracy, they were given a "notice of expatriation."

Late fines

The background to those expatriations is the so-called "option model" from the year 2000. Since then, children born to immigrant parents in Germany receive two nationalities: that of their parents as well as the German.

The catch? By their 23rd birthday, they have to decide which one they want. Whoever misses the deadline is automatically expatriated. Nor is it possible to hold dual citizenship over the long term. The model represents a compromise between the coalition government of Social Democrats and Greens at that time and the opposition Christian Democrats (CDU) and Christian Social Union (CSU).

A young woman with brown hair holds two passports in front of the camera

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Jungnickel would like to see a general acceptance of dual passports in Germany. The option model, he says, is "an old braid that deserves to be cut off." Those affected under the current model feel that they've been unfairly treated and marginalized.

For Jungnickel, too, the administrative burden is enormous. And it could increase in the coming years.

If those born in 2000 or after are forced to make a decision under the same system, 40,000 young people per year will be forced to choose.

Dual passport exceptions

Already, there are many exceptions to the ban on dual passports.

"EU citizens, for example, are not affected by the 'option' obligation," said lawyer Victor Pfaff of the German Lawyer Association. The rule also doesn't apply to Moroccans, Iranians, Algerians, Syrians and most Latin Americans due to the fact that their own home countries simply do not accept expatriation. German-Syrians or German-Spaniards born in Germany, then, are allowed to hold two passports. For Turks, however, the exception does not apply, which is why Pfaff criticizes that the law is in effect one against those with Turkish citizenship.

Two maroon-colored passports lie atop each other.

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Germany's roughly three million German-Turks constitute the largest migrant group in the country. Approximately one million of them were born in Germany.

Kenan Kolat is the Federal Chairman of the "Turkish Community in Germany". He demands an end to the option model, wants an easier path to German citizenship and would like the possibility of dual citizenship.

"This ideological debate - that you can't serve two masters - has to end," he told DW. Dual citizenship, he added, implies a "recognition of the culture" of the person affected.

Entrenched fronts

Option model opponents are receiving support from the Social Democrats (SPD). The SPD would like to do away with the model and to allow, in principle, for dual citizenship. These goals will "be abandoned under no circumstances," says Thomas Oppermann, leader of the SPD fraction in German parliament.

But as to whether the SPD can carry out its plans as part of a grand coalition with the CDU/CSU is another question. In coalition negotiations on the issue thus far, the union has proved immovable. Hans-Peter Friedrich of the CSU is Germany's interior minister and Opperman's opponent in the Bundestag's policy panel for domestic affairs. Whoever would like to remain in Germany, Friedrich says, has to earn German citizenship through integration.

A long u-shaped table overflows with politicians in a crowded room.

Coalition talks are set to resume on November 13

"We don't have to offer German citizenship like it's sour beer," he said. As a compromise, Friedrich offered to extend the option model - to 30 years of age, for example, rather than 23. Von Opperman is opposed to the idea.

"That would be an extension of a poor condition. We can't allow ourselves to do that in any way, shape or form," Oppermann said after talks with the CDU/CSU on Thursday (07.11.2013).

Without an end to the options model, Oppermann warned, coalition talks would come to no agreement. Now, instead of the domestic affairs panel working on the topic, the issue must be decided in the current coalition talks.

While Friedrich strictly rejects the idea of dual citizenship, Horst Seehofer, Bavaria's state premier, did crack open the door just bit. The head of the CSU suggested a model of "dormant citizenship."

Accordingly, a holder of two passports could exercise his or her rights wherever his center of life is. Critics consider the model impractical, since it would necessitate bilateral agreements between dual passport holder's two home countries. Still, the proposal is a first step away from the union's principled rejection of dual citizenship.

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