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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Pledging Allegiance: Plural Nationality

As many of you know I am an American citizen by birth and inclination and a long-term resident of the French Republic and the European Union.  Citizen, legal resident, third country national.  These three terms define the allegiance, duties, responsibilities and rights I have to my country of origin and to my country of residence.  Over the years I have contemplated becoming a French citizen but I have always hesitated.  I have written several posts over the years about my ambivalence toward pledging my allegiance to another nation-state.  All jokes and smart remarks aside, I take this question very seriously. I will not become a French citizen to avoid paperwork or to simplify my life here - to do so would be, in my view, an insult to the French, a people I esteem highly, and a outright lie if I did so with questionable loyalty to France in my heart.  I will also never become a French citizen if it puts my American citizenship in danger.

So with all these questions in my mind, and because I am a curious person who thinks too much (according to my very practical French husband),  I decided to delve into the subject of citizenship in general and dual nationality/citizenship in particular.  Perhaps if I understood better the roots of citizenship and the implications, and the arguments for and against dual citizenship, I can arrive at a decision that I can live with.

(For the purpose of this and the other essays I will write on this topic, I will use the terms "citizenship" and "nationality" interchangeably.  I am aware that there are differences but in general conversation - and what is a blog if it is not an informal conversation? - they mean the same thing.)

There has always been ambivalence to the idea of plural nationality/citizenship.  In addition to questions about loyalty and duties, protection of property and persons, there are also arguments about fairness.  Is it "fair" that by an accident of birth (or the judicious choice of a spouse) dual or plural citizens have the right to live, work and vote in two countries which gives them an undeserved advantage over people with only one?

For the majority of nation-states (and a goodly percentage of nation-state citizens) it would be a simpler and better world if every individual had exclusive allegiance to one country and held only one nationality/citizenship at a time.

Here are a few examples of how some States (and supra-national States) have acted to limit it:  


The 1963 Convention on Reduction of Cases of Multiple Nationality  (Article 1) said that those who were willingly naturalized in another state could lose the nationality of their country of origin.  This was amended in 1993 and the 1997 European Convention on Nationality rather grudgingly admits that, as a result of many factors, plural nationality exists as a fait accompli in today's world and sets down rules to accommodate it.  Nevertheless, I interpret this document as something less than a whole-hearted endorsement of it even between EU member states.


The German state has generally been hostile to the idea of dual citizenship. The constitutional  court of the Federal Republic of Germany had this to say in 1974:
It is accurate to say that dual or multiple nationality is regarded, both domestically and internationally, as an evil that should be avoided or elimination in the interests of states as well as in the interests of the affected citizens...
A 1999 poll indicated that 63% of Germans were against the idea of dual citizenship.  More recently, the Germany Nationality Act of 2000 allowed children whose German citizenship was acquired by jus soli to hold dual citizenship until the age of 18 at which point they were asked to choose one and renounce the other.  A quick search on the Web shows that the debate continues....


The United States of America discourages but does not prevent a U.S. citizen from holding dual citizenship.  Here is the official State Department policy:

A person who is automatically granted another citizenship does not risk losing U.S. citizenship. However, a person who acquires a foreign citizenship by applying for it may lose U.S. citizenship. In order to lose U.S. citizenship, the law requires that the person must apply for the foreign citizenship voluntarily, by free choice, and with the intention to give up U.S. citizenship. 
Intent can be shown by the person's statements or conduct.  The U.S. Government recognizes that dual nationality exists but does not encourage it as a matter of policy because of the problems it may cause. Claims of other countries on dual national U.S. citizens may conflict with U.S. law, and dual nationality may limit U.S. Government efforts to assist citizens abroad. The country where a dual national is located generally has a stronger claim to that person's allegiance.

In Japan dual nationality is officially forbidden (I've heard that there are exceptions to this).  The Japan Ministry of Justice has this to say (and they seem to be quite serious about it by actually requiring proof of renunciation of the other nationality):
A Japanese national having a foreign nationality (a person of dual nationality) shall choose either of the nationalities before he or she reaches twenty two years of age (or within two years after the day when he or she acquired the second nationality if he or she acquired such nationality after the day when he or she reached twenty years of age). If he or she fails to choose either of the nationalities, he or she may lose Japanese nationality.

Marine Le Pen of the Front National in France (Far Right) has declared more than once in interviews that she is against jus soli and dual nationality and would suppress it in France, if elected.  
Oui, je crois qu'il faut changer le code de la nationalité, qu'il faut supprimer le droit du sol et je pense qu'il faut supprimer la double nationalité.
And to my French friends who might argue that it is unfair to quote a politician from the Far Right on this issue, I would counter that given her level of support (23% in a recent poll), it is not inconceivable that her position on certain topics like nationality and immigration will be influential even if she does not win.  As someone thinking about becoming a French citizen, this kind of comment makes you think twice...

With all this discouragement and outright animosity on the part of States one might expect that plural nationality would be in decline.   Much to the chagrin of policy-makers the reality is that the number of dual (or plural) nationals is increasing.

In my next post, we'll examine why.


Victoria FERAUGE said...

And here is Marine Le Pen's latest attack on dual citizenship.

Anonymous said...

Thought you might be interested in the research and citations mentioned in these comments:

dual citizenship