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Politicians can't agree on whether to push immigrants to take on German citizenshipImage: picture-alliance / dpa/dpaweb

Promoting Citizenship

DW staff (sms)
July 13, 2007

One day after German Chancellor Angela Merkel termed the country's second integration summit a success, a Social Democratic politician has called for a new program to encourage immigrants to take on German citizenship.


Sebastian Edathy, chairman of the Bundestag's interior committee and senior member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), called on Friday for more political involvement on the part of immigrants in Germany.

He suggested launching a "citizenship campaign" to persuade foreigners to change their nationality.

"We should persuade people who have a right to citizenship to do more than be just residents and to become citizens," he told the daily Berliner Zeitung.

But Edathy's idea was met with skepticism in the conservative ranks of the German political establishment.

Stephan Mayer, parliamentary head for the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), questioned whether giving citizenship to foreigners would lead to better integration.

"Awarding citizenship can only take place at the end of a successful integration process, certainly not at the beginning," Mayer said. "The state cannot offer citizenship as a concession."

A sensitive issue

Reisepässe, Symbolbild Einwanderung
Foreigners have to give up their previous citizenship to become GermanImage: AP

The integration issue in Germany has been traditionally plagued by the widely divergent positions of the SPD and the CDU/CSU -- now united under the umbrella of Merkel's grand coalition government.

Foreigners, who are not married to German citizens, currently obtain the right to apply for German citizenship if they have been legally living in Germany for at least eight years, if they can financially support themselves and their families without state aid, if they possess sufficient German language skills, have not been convicted of a crime, and if they avow they will adhere to Germany's Basic Law and democratic principles.

By adopting German citizenship, foreigners living in Germany are also expected to give up any other citizenship they have.

Extending local voting rights

Wahlurne mit Wahlzettel
EU citizens can participate in local elections wherever in the bloc they liveImage: Bilderbox

Edathy also said Germany should provide some foreigners with a right to vote in local elections.

"It is key that we improve migrants' political participation by a right to vote in municipal election for foreigners who have lived in Germany for a long time," he said.

While federal and state elections are open only to a country's citizens, the European Union law opened municipal elections across the 27-member bloc to all EU citizens who are local residents, even if they are not citizens of the country where they live.

"I don't think much of extending the right to vote because it doesn't contribute to integration," Bavaria's Interior Minister Günther Beckstein told Deutschlandfunk radio on Friday. "Integration is a hard task: namely learning the legal system, leaning that you can speak the language and that you fit in to society."

New ideas after integration summit

Edathy's suggestions were not subject to discussion at Germany's second integration summit on Thursday, which dealt with proposals from six working groups on how to improve the integration of immigrants living in Germany.

Despite the decision of some Turkish groups to boycott the meeting in protest of a recent law placing additional restrictions on some foreigners before they are allowed to move to Germany, Merkel called the day-long meeting a success and "milestone" for the country's integration efforts.

Representatives of the federal government, the states and some 90 community leaders at the summit adopted a "national integration plan" containing 400 promises for improvements -- ranging from aid for ethnic sports clubs to making more German-language classes available.

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