05/2009: Prof. Rainer Bauböck

MAY 2009

Prof. Rainer Bauböck
Director of the EU Observatory
on Citizenship (EUCITAC)


“Current policy and legal developments
on European Union citizenship”


Ü Eurasylum: The EU Observatory on Citizenship (EUCITAC) was launched in January 2009, with the support of the European Commission. It aims to document legal reforms, policy developments and statistical data on citizenship in the 27 EU Member States and the accession candidate states (in addition to Switzerland, Norway and Iceland), and to generate comparative analyses on these issues. Can you guide us through the key policy rationale, planned activities and modus operandi of your Observatory?

Ü Prof. Rainer Bauböck: The citizenship observatory will be part of a larger European Union Democracy Observatory (EUDO) at the Robert Schuman Centre of the European University Institute in Florence. Democracy is government accountable to citizens. We believe therefore that the comparative study of citizenship is essential for understanding the general evolution of democracy in Europe.

In a first stage our observatory will focus on citizenship in the narrow sense as a legal status of nationality and the conditions for acquisition and loss of that status. We will document and analyse the nationality laws of 33 countries, decisions by national and European courts and the evolution of international legal norms, such as the increasing toleration of dual citizenship. We plan to develop online databases both for legal provisions and statistics of naturalisation, which will allow researchers, policy makers and NGOs to get quick and reliable overviews or to generate their own comparisons of specific countries or modes of access to citizenship. Comparisions have so far too often relied on superficial classifications of countries according to criteria such as residence requirements for naturalisation, ius soli for a second generation or toleration of dual citizenship in naturalisations. We know, however, that we need much more comprehensive information to make such comparisons valid and reliable.

A network of experts in all countries covered will be involved in generating the information and providing background reports that explain the current legal regime, its historical context and the dynamics of policy making in the area of citizenship. We will also provide news alerts on recent events, an online discussion forum on research hypotheses and policy related issues and a series of comparative reports on European trends, for example on requirements for naturalisation or on ius soli for second and third generations of immigrant origin.

The project will be co-directed by Jo Shaw at Edinburgh University and myself. The University of Maastricht, the University College Dublin and the Central European University Budapest are the three other members of the consortium that will manage the project.

Ü Eurasylum: Although the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 has formally introduced the status of European Union citizenship, evidence suggests that there is still a lack of coordination of Member States’ citizenship policies, in addition to a lack of harmonisation of regulations relating to long-term residence status. Can you highlight some of the most significant differences between the citizenship laws of the EU Member States, including as regards the interplay between citizenship and nationality, citizenship and voting rights, and citizenship and political integration of immigrants?

Ü Prof. Rainer Bauböck: Citizenship of the European Union is derived from Member State nationality but there is no competence of the EU to regulate the citizenship policies of national governments. After the introduction of a common currency in the Euro zone, the abolition of internal border controls and harmonization of external border controls in the Schengen area and moves towards common policies on external relations, defence and security, the determination of citizenship status has remained as an untouchable core of state sovereignty in the European Union. States jealously guard their rights to self-determination in matters of citizenship, but they cannot escape the effects of European integration. The core right of EU citizenship is freedom of movement and settlement in other member states. Each state thus creates under its own laws EU citizens who have a right of access to all other member states. If, for example, Italy offers Italian passports to potentially millions of Latin Americans, or if Moldovans apply en masse for Romanian passports this will obviously affect other countries in the Union that are preferred destinations of immigrants from these origins.

A second area of common concern is the integration of third country nationals in EU member states. The EU has developed common principles and has set up a fund for supporting projects on the integration of non-EU immigrants. Most importantly, a 2003 directive has introduced a European status for long-term resident third country nationals. However, these initiatives remain radically incomplete without promoting also access of immigrants and their children to member state nationality and EU citizenship. Even if all other rights of citizenship were extended to third country nationals, two core rights would remain reserved for citizens: the right to unconditional return and the right to vote in national elections. Both transnational mobility and domestic political representation are crucial for the integration of immigrants, and this is why “denizenship” cannot fully substitute for access to full citizenship status.

In the 1990s several academic authors have suggested that, in spite of a lack of top-down harmonization, there is spontaneous convergence towards more liberal standards with regard to access to citizenship. Our research confirms this for certain aspects, such as toleration of dual citizenship but not for others, such as conditions for naturalisation, where we find very different trends and approaches across the EU. It is also important to realize that what appears as a more liberal policy with regard to naturalisation and toleration of dual citizenship is very often addressed to emigrants rather than immigrants of a different ethnic origin. One of the strongest trends not just in Europe but even beyond is the strengthening of political and legal ties between expatriates and their countries of origin. A recent count has shown that 115 countries and independent territories have introduced some form of voting rights for their citizens residing abroad. This indicates an important change in conceptions of democratic community, which are no longer so clearly limited by territorial borders.

Ü Eurasylum: Another objective of your Observatory is to analyse the impact of enlargement on conceptions and policies of citizenship in Europe. This includes an analysis of citizenship developments in the wake of the break up of federations, such as the former Soviet Union, the Russian Federation, former Czechoslovakia and former Yugoslavia. In contrast with the old Member States, most of the new ones have not existed as independent states within their present borders for more than two generations. Can you discuss some of the most salient differences in the ways in which the new member States approach citizenship policies and rights, particularly in relation to their large emigrant communities, the ethnic minorities in the neighbouring countries and the minorities on their own territory?

Ü Prof. Rainer Bauböck: There are indeed several common features that characterize the citizenship laws of the new EU Member States in Central and Eastern Europe. None of these countries has currently ius soli provisions that would provide for automatic or optional access to citizenship for second and third generations born in the country to foreign national parents. The toleration of dual citizenship in naturalisation has become the norm among the EU-15 states with only Denmark and Austria retaining strict renunciation requirements and Germany and the Netherlands defending the principle but granting many exceptions. In the new Member States, the rejection of dual citizenship is still the norm and countries that tolerate it do so more with a view to retaining ties with expatriates than facilitating the integration of immigrants. Naturalisation is nearly everywhere a discretionary decision taken by authorities after long waiting periods and the rates of access to citizenship through naturalisation are correspondingly very low, except for immigrants who are regarded as ethnic kin. Most countries have also tried to correct the effects of communist policies that deprived emigrants who had left without authorization of their citizenship. Reaching out to large emigrant communities and offering them citizenship is thus, on the one hand, a reassertion of ethnic conceptions of national community, but it is also, on the other hand, regarded as a compensation for past exclusion.

One should not, however, overemphasize the similarities among the new Member States and their difference with the EU-15. We find different approaches in countries like the Czech Republic, which has few internal minorities and no large external kin groups in other states, in Hungary with the largest number of co-linguistic minorities in the “near abroad”, or in Estonia and Latvia, where the large Russian minorities were initially excluded from citizenship. And we do find differences among the EU-15 states, like Italy, Spain and Ireland, that also offer easy access to their citizenship to millions of co-ethnic or co-lingual residents of overseas countries.

When studying the evolution of citizenship policies and their underlying norms, we have to take into account at least three different influences: historic legacies, domestic politics, and international pressures. The legacies of past histories of state- and nation-building are obviously important as they explain a diversity of starting points for citizenship policies. But legacies are never cast in stone and shape present policies only to the extent that they are rearticulated and reinterpreted in contemporary discourses. This is where domestic politics enters the picture. Political parties and governments of different ideological orientations can make a difference when they believe that taking a specific stance on citizenship policies will increase their electoral support. Germany broke with its strong tradition of an ethnic conception of nationhood when the first red-green coalition government introduced ius soli in 1999. But they could probably only do so against the background of German reunification that delegitimized the immigration and citizenship preferences for ethnic Germans. Finally, international pressure can effectively promote reforms. We have seen this in the Baltic states where the EU had relied on normative standards for citizenship elaborated by the Council of Europe or with the 2001 Hungarian Status Law, which granted a quasi-citizenship status to ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia and Romania, but which was watered down, partly in response to a critical report by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission.