Waiting game: Brexit fears prompt more British applications for German citizenship | News | DW | 18.08.2016
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Waiting game: Brexit fears prompt more British applications for German citizenship

Two months since the UK voted in the EU referendum and Article 50, which would set the ball rolling for the Brexit, is yet to be triggered. DW met two Britons who are among the hundreds applying for German citizenship.

As the world woke to the news of a Brexit result on June 24, forty-eight percent of the UK electorate were left devastated by the uncertainty of their country's future in the EU and the unknown implications for both themselves and future generations.

Two months on, and senior figures in the City of London said last week that despite the political pressure on Prime Minister Theresa May to begin Brexit negotiations, Article 50 might well be left hanging until 2019 due to delays in the PM's new Brexit and international trade departments.

Elections in France and Germany which are scheduled to be held in 2017 could also delay the beginning of the UK's drawn-out farewell to its European neighbors.

Will they or won't they?

While the final decision remains up in the air, many Brits - both home and abroad - are taking no chances and have been seeking out possibilities to secure dual-nationality in countries across the EU.

Figures published last week by "Spiegel Online" showed that Germany is no exception, where, compared to last year, the number of British applications for naturalization has increased dramatically since the EU referendum.

In the southwestern city of Stuttgart, 29 Brits have applied for naturalization since the start of 2016 - almost 10 times as many in the whole of 2015 - 21 of which were made since the EU referendum.

Info graph showing number of British applications for naturalization in Germany

In Cologne the numbers have tripled. 2015 saw a total of 10 British applications for naturalization. In the six months running up to the referendum, however, the city received 17 applications, and another 17 post-referendum.

Almost 60 years since The Beatles famously lived there, Germany's northern port city of Hamburg also remains a favorite with the Brits, with 38 naturalization applications submitted in the first half of this year and 120 since the referendum, compared to 52 in the whole of last year.

'Betrayed'

Among the 100,000 Brits living in Germany is 29-year-old translator David Tunnicliffe. Born in Coventry, England, David now lives in Sonneberg in the eastern German state of Thuringia. He first moved to Germany in 2009 after graduating from Herriot Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland.

As he tuned in to see the result on the referendum two months ago, Tunnicliffe said he felt betrayed by the 52 percent of the UK population who voted to leave the EU.

"I was absolutely gutted," he told DW. "I'd never experienced emotions like that before. I was watching the coverage and all I could think was 'Oh my god, this is actually happening.'"

Calls for leniency from German politicians

Although he'd considered applying for German citizenship before the EU referendum, Tunnicliffe told DW that the result on June 24 was ultimately what triggered his decision to pursue the application.

"I want to safeguard myself because everyone's still so uncertain about what's going to happen with the Brexit and if it's going to happen. I want to make sure that I have it before anything changes," he said.

Anti-Brexit protesters in London

Some 48 percent of UK voters believed that Britain and the EU were 'stronger together'

The standard time an EU citizen is required to live in Germany before applying for citizenship is eight years. If an applicant shows "particular integration accomplishments," for example a high level of the German language, this is reduced to six.

Germany's Green party parliamentary faction recently demanded, however, that the normal rules should be eased for Brits faced with the Brexit. The interior ministry refused to consider any exceptions.

Having lived in Germany for seven years, Tunnicliffe said he's also keen to vote in the country's elections.

"I've lived and worked here since I finished university seven years ago and so the result of the elections here affect me," he said.

Question of identity

While the UK remains an EU member-state, Brits are still entitled to dual citizenship with other EU countries. Should the Brexit go ahead, however, they may well be stripped of this privilege. The decision to give up his British passport wouldn't be an easy one, Tunnicliffe told DW.

"I don't really need the British passport, but I'd find it devastating to give it up," he said.

"I don't feel German. When I watch the Olympics, I want Team GB to win. It's part of who you are," he said, adding that keeping the British passport is also important for his three-year-old daughter, whom he and his German wife are raising bilingual.

UK passport

For many Brits, giving up their UK passport would be giving up part of their identity

"Maybe having both will be an advantage to her if the EU implements restrictions on free movement for Brits," he said, adding that he wanted his daughter to have as many of the same possibilities as he did.

"Without the opportunities to study and work freely in the EU, I wouldn't be the person I am now or be where I am now," Tunnicliffe said.

All hope of post-Brexit dual-nationality may not be lost, however. In the days following the EU referendum, German Vice Chancellor and Social Democrat (SPD) leader Sigmar Gabriel stressed that Germany should give young Britons the chance to have EU citizenship.

"Let's offer [citizenship] to the young Brits who live in Germany, Italy or France so that they can remain EU citizens in this country," he said.

'How to become German'

For 23-year-old Jacqui Bardelang who grew up in southeast London, the decision to apply for German citizenship was almost instantaneous. She was among the 74 percent of 18 to 24 year-olds who voted to stay in the EU.

Jacqui Bardelang

Jacqui Bardelang, 23, wants to keep her options open for the future

"I was travelling in China when I heard the result," she told DW. "The first thing I googled was 'how to become German.'"

Bardelang's mother was actually born in Karlsruhe in southwestern Germany, but moved to the UK when she was seven and later naturalized.

"Unfortunately as my mum gave up her German citizenship, I don't automatically have the right to apply," Bardelang told DW.

As part of her studies in German and Japanese, the University of Leeds graduate also spent time in the western German city Mainz.

"I haven't ruled out ever moving back to Germany," she told DW.

"Let's be honest," she said, "Germany has more going for it than the UK right now."

As British Prime Minister Theresa May takes it slowly readying for the exit process, Bardelang said she was grateful for the extra time.

"The Germans certainly don't make it simple," she said, adding that it was a test of her language proficiency merely to find the necessary information. "This isn't going to be easy for any of us," she said.

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