Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun...

Monday, January 9, 2012

Testing the Loyalty of Dual Citizens

The Economist is reporting that the Dutch are proposing a new law that would limit naturalizing citizens ability to keep their nationality of origin and strip Dutch expatriates of some of their rights as well if they naturalize in their host countries. These people would become "ex-Dutch nationals" which would limit their right to return to The Netherlands and limit their ability to pass Dutch citizenship (EU citizenship) onto their children.

As I've written elsewhere, most states have reluctantly come to tolerate the idea of dual (or even plural) nationality.  It's almost impossible to enforce, there is an almost endless combination of jus sanguinis and jus soli laws to be taken into account, and globalization has dramatically increased the opportunities for dual citizenship to occur.  In the bad old days there were some very effective methods of limiting dual citizenship in Europe and the US:  citizenship passed through the paternal line and revocation of citizenship through naturalization in another state.  For example, there was a time when a Frenchwoman marrying an Italian or an American marrying a Scot became citizens of their husbands' countries even if they stayed in France or the US.  As a result of this their children were nationals of their fathers' states but not of their mother's - a very practical solution but grossly unfair and quite sexist.  These laws were repealed in the 20th century and just about everyone I've ever talked to thought this was a good thing.

That leaves the latter method, revocation of original citizenship upon naturalization in another state, which still gets some traction.  Very few people would argue that children or women should lose their citizenships because of factors beyond their control (a parent's citizenship, sex or marital status).  But many more people still see some justice in taking away the citizenship of someone who has performed an "expatriating act" like serving in a foreign military or voluntarily acquiring citizenship in another state.  From the receiving state's perspective (and the perspective of many citizens of those states) it seems right that naturalizing citizens declare their loyalty to one state only.

I think a lot of this is based on uncertainty about the intentions of naturalizing citizens.  Are they naturalizing out of love and commitment to the receiving state or are they doing this for reasons of convenience?   No state likes to be in a position of having to evaluate the loyalty of its citizens and, with people who have multiple passports,  there is the question of how that individual "ranks" his or her different nationalities.  Since this is ultimately unknowable, some states ask that these people reveal their intentions by publicly shedding other loyalties.  Demonstrate to us how important it is to you to be Dutch (or French or American) by going down to your embassy and renouncing your other citizenship.

In short, it is a loyalty test, and the test takers in the Dutch case are both naturalizing citizens and native-born citizens who live abroad.

If this law passes I predict the following responses:

1.  The Netherlands will experience a steep rise in foreign nationals who have residency permits (permits, by the way that allow them almost all the benefits of citizenship without holding them to any obligation other than paying taxes and obeying the laws) who will refuse to become citizens.  Since these residents do not feel that they can become citizens, since the price they are being asked to pay is too high, they will feel even less loyalty to The Netherlands and will see no need to integrate.  A result that is likely to exacerbate the issues Dutch citizens have with their resident immigrant populations.
2.  The Dutch overseas who naturalize in their host countries will unwillingly be stripped of their Dutch/EU citizenship and that will make them very bitter indeed.  It is not likely that these people will continue to feel much loyalty toward The Netherlands or have any interest whatsoever in working on the homeland's behalf.  In one swift act the Dutch government will turn these people from "unofficial good-will ambassadors" into something else altogether.
3.  The Dutch overseas who have not yet naturalized in their host countries might be reluctant to do so thus creating Problem 1 above for the receiving state.

Proposed laws like this one, and the application of the principle in places like the U.S., reveals something quite startling:   enormous insecurity on the part of some states in this globalized era.  It is as if they are unsure about their power to command the loyalty and love of their own native-born citizens and they seem to have zero confidence in the attractiveness and assimilating power of their own cultures.

It is an admission of weakness, not an assertion of strength, before the forces of international migration and mondialisation.  Furthermore, all countries that do this need to be very cautious.  If large numbers of Dutch abroad choose their host countries over the homeland, and resident foreigners refuse to become Dutch citizens, than we will all see what Dutch citizenship is worth on the global market.  Will this make Dutch citizens in the home country feel more secure and value their citizenship more or will it cause them to think less of it?  And is this really something the Dutch people want the entire world to know?

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