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Pointless Exercise?

DW staff (jg)
June 11, 2008

From September 1 onwards, anyone applying for German citizenship will first have to pass a citizenship test. But the opposition and migrant organizations have criticised the point of the exercise.

Picture of a hand answering a questionnaire
Would-be citizens will have to go back to the classroomImage: picture-alliance / dpa/dpaweb

The multiple choice test will cover such areas as Germany's political system and society, as well as German history. The 33 questions will be picked at random from a list of just over 300. Would-be citizens will have to answer just over half of them correctly.

With the number of people applying for German citizenship in steady declining over recent years, some critics have disputed the necessity of the examination. Others have questioned the sense of something that simply rewards rote learning.

The right approach?

Picture of citizenship questionnaire published in Hesse
The states of Bavaria, Baden-Wuerttemberg and Hesse have pressed for the testImage: picture-alliance/ dpa/dpaweb

Green party parliamentarian Josef Winkler described the test as a "spurious solution for a spurious problem" in an interview with the Financial Times Deutschland.

The Left Party vice chairwoman Halina Wawzyniak also described it as "superfluous". She called for a comprehensive overhaul of citizenship laws and the relaxation of rules on dual citizenship.

The Free Democrats' integration expert Sibylle Laurischk criticized the content of the test. "Anyone who can learn stuff well off by heart can easily pass a formulaic test of this nature," she told the FTD.

She called for a flexible approach when evaluating test results, stressing the greater importance of having a good command of the German language.

The chairman of the Turkish community in Germany, Kenan Kolat, has described the test as a "procedure to select between the educated and the uneducated". He said that lower-class migrants would be unable to pass.

In an interview with the epd news agency, Kolat accused Germany of creating more and more new hurdles to obtaining citizenship, causing migrants, as a result, to increasingly become disaffected.

Set to increase alienation?

Integration course including a number of women with headscarves
Some say language classes are more important than swotting for a rote testImage: dpa - Bildfunk

He said the test reinforced "the feeling of being a foreigner" and predicted a further drop in the number of people applying for citizenship.

An interior ministry spokesman defended the examination. He said that citizens had both rights and duties. Citizenship tests exist in a number of other European Union countries, including the UK and the Netherlands.

But organizational difficulties could still stand in the way of the punctual launch of the test. The questions are still being worked on and are not due to be published until the cabinet have approved them in late July or early August. Ulrich Aengenvoort, the director of Germany's Volkshochschulen (VHS), the educational institutes charged with conducting the test, conceded that the timetable was tight. However, he said he was confident that the VHS would cope.