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Germany: Government Drops Ambitious Citizenship Law

Munich, 12 February 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Germany's government has been forced to drop an ambitious plan for opening the way to citizenship for millions of foreign residents, but it still hopes to get an amended law through parliament with the help of the opposition.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said in a television interview yesterday Feb. 11) his coalition of Social Democrats and Green environmentalists has to accept that it can no longer sustain its original plan to allow an estimated three million foreign residents -- including many Turkish immigrants --- to have dual citizenship with both a German passport and a national passport.

But he said his government would invite the opposition parties to join it in drawing up a compromise plan which would still make it easier for foreigners to become German citizens.

Schroeder said he hoped the new legislation could be approved by parliament by July.

At the time the original policy was formulated, Schroeder's government enjoyed a majority in the Upper House -- or Bundesrat -- which must approve such fundamental changes to German law. But the government lost a provincial election last Sunday which altered the composition of the Upper House.

The government can no longer push its legislation through the Upper House against the wishes of the opposition.

Most political analysts believe the new Schroeder plan may succeed.

Although the opposition parties rejected the idea of dual citizenship most -- but not all -- are willing to accept changes in the present laws to make it easier for long-term residents to obtain citizenship.

The government's new plan is likely to be based on one drawn up by an opposition party -- the Free Democrats. But Schroeder himself acknowledged that success is not certain.

The new plan would grant automatic citizenship to any child born in Germany when one of the parents has lived in the country for at least 10 years and has the right of permanent residence. But the child would have to decide by the age of 23 whether he wanted German citizenship or would take the citizenship of his parents. Other provisions would make it easier for long-term residents to get citizenship.

Present German citizenship laws are based on legislation approved in 1913 which established a view of nationality based on blood.

Under this, German nationality basically belongs to those who have German forefathers -- "Germans are those with German blood," as it is sometimes said. It means that a ethnic German immigrant whose family has lived in Romania for centuries is almost automatically granted citizenship.

A Turk worker who has lived in Germany for 30 years and has children and grandchildren born in the country faces many more difficulties. But many Germans believe the law should be changed because of the millions of foreigners who have come to live in the country since the 1950s.

Turks are usually quoted as the most disadvantaged group because they are the largest minority. Of the 7.1 million foreigners registered in Germany, about 2.2 million are Turks. The other large minorities are the Yugoslavs (800,000), Italians (600,000) and Greeks (350,000).

But while most analysts believe there is strong support for a new citizenship law, there are some pockets of opposition.

One of them is in the province of Bavaria where the right-wing provincial government collected more than a million signatures opposing dual citizenship. Spokesmen for the ruling party have said "German is a land of the German people, not a land of immigration."

Schroeder also faces problems within his own coalition. The more fundamentalist members of the Green party argue that the government should press ahead with the original plan for dual citizenship although it no longer has any chance of gaining approval in the upper house. They argue the dual citizenship policy was a fundamental plank of the program on which the Greens fought last year's election.

But leaders of the party have said they see little point of pressing ahead with legislation that is doomed to failure.