Smallest German governing party stalls on citizenship reform

BERLIN (AP) — Senior members of the smallest party in Germany’s coalition government are seeking to hit the brakes on plans to ease rules for obtaining German citizenship, arguing Monday that the government must first do more to ensure that people in the country illegally are deported.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, a member of his center-left party, have signaled in recent days that they’re keen to move ahead quickly with liberalizing the rules — one of a series of modernizing reforms that Scholz’s three-party coalition agreed to tackle when it took office nearly a year ago.

But senior lawmakers with the pro-business Free Democrats, who tended to ally with the center-right before joining Scholz’s coalition last year and are now struggling in the polls, have pushed back on that plan. They point to a pledge in the coalition agreement to “effectively reduce irregular migration” and argue that too little has happened on that front.

The Free Democrats’ general secretary, Bijan Djir-Sarai, told Monday’s edition of the daily Rheinische Post daily that “now is not the moment to simplify citizenship law. There is no progress so far on repatriation and on combating illegal migration.” He added that the coalition must not “take the second step before the first.”

The head of the German parliament’s defense committee, Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann of the Free Democrats, said it’s right for people who have long lived and worked in Germany to be integrated faster. “But before Ms. Faeser makes that her top priority, she should first ensure that those who are here illegally, those who may also have attracted the attention of law enforcement, are repatriated properly,” she told n-tv television.

Faeser’s plans call for people to be eligible for German citizenship after five years of legal residence, or three in case of “special integration accomplishments,” rather than the eight or six years at present. The coalition also pledged last year to drop restrictions on holding dual citizenship.

Germany’s center-right opposition objects both to shortening the waiting period and to allowing dual citizenship as a rule. At present, most people from countries other than European Union members and Switzerland in principle have to give up their previous nationality when they gain German citizenship, but there are several exemptions.

“Already today, about 60% of people who are naturalized keep their previous citizenship,” Scholz said in a speech Monday. “And for the other 40% it’s often hard to understand … why that doesn’t go for them in their individual case.”

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