A two-day conference of state interior ministers in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, southern Germany, ended Friday with a breakthrough on the tricky question of what criteria a migrant needs to fulfill in order to qualify for German citizenship. The issue has stirred hot debate across the country in recent months.
Günther Beckstein, interior minister of Bavaria and chairman of the conference, said on Friday that all applicants in future will have to attend citizenship classes. They will include learning about the basic values and fundaments of the German constitution and state.
Mandatory citizenship classes
The German Federal Office for Migrants and Refugees will be entrusted with developing the content and concept of the citizenship courses. Applicants will have to pay for the courses themselves.
Beckstein stressed that migrants had to sincerely attend the citizenship class in order to get a German passport. "There has to be successful participation," Beckstein said, adding that merely furnishing proof of attendance wouldn't suffice.
Beckstein also said that participants wouldn't necessarily have to sit a formal test at the end of the course, but rather that their acquired knowledge would be tested in other ways. He didn't specify what form that could take.
The introduction of standardized citizenship courses effectively scratches out a controversial nationwide knowledge test as proposed by the states of Hesse and Baden-Württemberg. The tests in the two states, both ruled by the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), had triggered widespread protest for questioning immigrants about their stance on homosexuality and women and a 100-question quiz on random German history and politics, among other things.
Migrants must learn German
Immigration ministers on Friday also agreed on introducing common language tests for prospective Germans.
"If you live in Germany, you have to be able to understand and speak German," Beckstein said.
He added that naturalization would be strengthened through an official ceremony and "through an oath or a ceremonial avowal." But it will be up to individual states to decide whether the current declaration of loyalty to the constitution will suffice.
In addition, the two-day conference also reached agreement on tightening one aspect of the criteria by making it tougher for applicants with a criminal record to become German.
"Exceptions are possible, particularly in the case of driving offences, but we don't want criminals taking on German citizenship," Beckstein said.
Compromise is "good news"
Most agree that the compromise is a fair one.
"I'm very happy with the result. Successful integration will now be crowned with citizenship," Ralf Stegner, interior minister of Schleswig-Holstein and a Social Democrat said.
The CDU's domestic policy expert told a German new channel that the agreement was "good news."
Around 130,000 foreigners became German citizens last year.