Tag Archives: Germany

Mixed signals on citizenship

by Rhodri C. Williams

The last few weeks have brought a confusing spate of reports that predict the demise of traditional, monogamous one person-one passport citizenship along with others that indicate that states are more determined than ever to retain its essence. So what does this have to do with this blog? Well, for one thing, citizenship is the glue that governments have traditionally used to bind particular populations to the territories they control, completing the triangle of statehood. But the issue also has personal overtones for me as part of the great global expat class. I’ve got two dual citizen kids, and could probably use a bit of dual citizenship myself, at the very least as a matter of administrative convenience.

Should administrative convenience count? The Economist argues yes in an editorial the week before last, noting that traditional citizenship was never an ironclad guarantee of loyalty, and nor is it particularly relevant to security in an age of professional militaries. Although significant complications involving voting rights are acknowledged, the magazine sees and applauds a trend toward routine multiple citizenship as an economic win-win situation, and one in which tax residence can serve as a new and more practical signifier of political loyalties:

Rather than making a fetish out of passports, a better approach would be to use residence (especially tax residence) as the main criterion for an individual’s rights and responsibilities. That encourages cohesion and commitment, because it stems from a conscious decision to live in a country and abide by its rules.

However, an article in the same Economist outlines new restrictions on the acquisition of dual citizenship imposed by EU states such as the Netherlands and Germany. Meanwhile, citizenship law expert Peter Spiro posts on Opinio Juris on how the US – which is already virtually unique in imposing double taxation on its better-earning expat citizens – has now piled on burdensome reporting requirements on assets held abroad. Spiro notes that the requirement may make it impossible for the 4-6 million Americans abroad to open local bank accounts and speculates that many with dual citizenship will go underground or renounce their US citizenship.

However, Israel appears to have gone furthest in bucking the trend toward more liberal citizenship rules, with its  Supreme Court deciding last week that Palestinians who marry Israeli citizens may be categorically excluded from citizenship. Sound a bit … oh, well … hard to square with fundamental non-discrimination norms?  Israeli judge Asher Grunis will no doubt long be remembered for his pithy response:

Human rights do not prescribe national suicide.

Well, don’t they now? In a separate and fascinating survey of trends in citizenship law, Peter Spiro argues in the latest American Journal of International Law that perhaps they do. Sadly, the full article lurks behind a subscription-wall, but the abstract can be read here:

State practices relating to nationality and citizenship have historically been insulated from international law. That is beginning to change as citizenship moves into a human rights frame. Citizenship practices relating to naturalization, birthright citizenship, and dual citizenship are being measured against anti-discrimination and self-governance norms. These developments will expand access to citizenship, though the new international law of citizenship may also contribute to the erosion of state solidarities that are important to liberal governance.

In essence, Spiro argues that human rights norms are inexorably curtailing the the traditional prerogative of states to ‘self-define’ their membership through the discretionary grant of citizenship. Given that human rights advocates have focused on forbidding the arbitrary denial of citizenship to long-term residents, liberal theory would ordinarily hold that those eligible for citizenship under such terms would likely have integrated over time and made the type of “conscious decision to live in a country and abide by its rules” the Economist lauds (above) in promoting tax residence as a sort of contemporary proxy for what citizenship has been.

However, Spiro cites the scale of current migration and the nature of globalization in questioning whether such bonds can still be said to automatically result from residency. Ultimately, he raises the question of whether “internationally mandated membership” may not only reduce the levels of solidarity in states, but also – and as a result – their actual capacity to continue acting as the primary guarantors of human rights. Death of states? Not necessarily. Default devolution of some of the central attributes of sovereignty to supranational institutions that will hopefully have the legitimacy and capacity to pick up the slack by then? Well, stay tuned.

So where do my loyalties (or at least my sympathies) lie? I pay taxes and consume services in Sweden, and enjoy a quality of life here that would be the envy of a vast proportion of my fellow global citizens. I participate most emphatically in the culture of Finland, or rather Åland, at least since I got involved in the slightly manic ritual of wrestling the annual midsummer pole up along with the other (and better qualified) yeomen of my wife’s ancestral village. And whenever I get back to the  States again, its like I’ve woken up from a dream. Not a bad one, mind you, but one that has you scratching your head because it seemed so plausible at the time, but could it really have been like that?? I guess a bit of cultural vertigo is the sign of our times.

Advertisements

The week in links – week 39/2010

A few interesting items last week:

  1. Nicholas Christoph at the NY Times lays out a scenario for a derailed referendum on the independence of southern Sudan to result in yet another post-Cold War genocide in early 2011 – and advises the Obama administration to put punitive pipeline bombing on the table as a foreign policy instrument.
  2. Lazaro Sumbeiywo and John Danforth provide a slightly more prosaic account of what is at stake in the upcoming referendum and take rather a different policy tack in plugging for increased development assistance to help Sudan improve its woeful MDG standing.
  3. Its twenty years since German unification, the event that bumped me out of my teenage apathy and into the slipstream of the New World Order we have all enjoyed the fruits of since. Foreign Policy reports on how Europe’s current economic woes relate to the deal cut back then, while NYT notes that South Korea is scrutinizing the unification model for events foreseeable over the next twenty.
  4. Its also been 20 years since the first human development report. Who knew? UNDP has a dedicated webpage including a number of new thematic research papers on “key issues and concepts of human development”
  5. Finally, a new journal has just come out of Penn Press that bundles together a lot of the issues a lot of TN readers hold dear: “Humanity is a semiannual publication dedicated to publishing original research and reflection on human rights, humanitarianism, and development in the modern and contemporary world.” Enjoy it, o those of you with access to academic databases, and may a little bit trickle down to the rest of us.