German coalition at odds over liberalised citizenship rules

FDP opposes formerly agreed plan to reduce to five years the residency period required for a non-national to apply for a German passport

Plans to liberalise German citizenship laws have divided Berlin’s ruling coalition just as it marks its first year in office.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz and his Social Democratic Party (SPD) have proposed reducing, from eight to five years, the residency period required for a non-national to apply for a German passport.

The plan is part of a wider immigration package backed by the Green Party but opposed by the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP).

Last year’s coalition agreement proposed the shorter, five-year waiting period – a year longer than the FDP proposed in its own election manifesto.


After a slide in polls and a series of state election disasters, however, the FDP has changed its position.

“When it comes to immigration all helping hands are welcome in the labour market – just not those who want to hold out their hands for welfare,” said Marco Buschmann, FDP justice minister. “That applies, too, for citizenship.”

The FDP insists it will only back the plan when more is done in parallel to speed up returns of failed asylum seekers and illegal immigrants. But the SPD and Greens insist on their liberal coalition allies honouring its coalition commitment.

“We’re quite optimistic as far as this project goes,” said an interior ministry spokesman.

After a previous liberalisation push 20 years ago, the SPD and Greens have presented the latest proposed changes as “knocking the last dust of the Kaiser era” from German citizenship rules.

“Anyone who lives and works here on a permanent basis should also be able to vote and be elected, they should be part of our country with all the rights and duties that go with it,” said Chancellor Olaf Scholz in a televised discussion forum on immigration. “This should be completely independent of origin, skin colour or religious affiliation.”

The citizenship proposal is part of a wider Berlin plan to tackle a tightening demographic outlook and a corresponding shortage of skilled labour.

As well as reducing the required income for a green card, new arrivals would be evaluated using a points system and permitted to have dual citizenship – a privilege reserved to date for EU citizens.

Waiting times and language requirements may be relaxed for older residents who moved to Germany as so-called “guest workers” in the 1960s and 1970s.

Before the cabinet discusses the plan on Wednesday, the opposition centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has launched a campaign to stop the coalition “squandering” German citizenship.

“The German passport must not become junk,” said Thorsten Frei, CDU parliamentary floor leader.

CDU general secretary Mario Czaja has insisted that granting citizenship should not “come at the beginning of the integration process”.

The party secured a spike in political support in 1999 when, in opposition in Berlin, it blocked the then SPD-Green coalition plan of allowing wider dual citizenship.

Now as then, the CDU has vowed to block the new citizenship law – in full or in part – in the upper house, the Bundesrat. The coalition hopes to draft the law to avoid requiring upper house approval, possibly by mid-2023.

Among the loudest backers of the proposed changes are German employers and the German Union Federation (DGB).

“We have to move away from managing the terms and conditions for arrivals towards a real welcoming culture,” said Ms Yasmin Fahimi, DGB chief. “We need to say, ‘we don’t just need your labour, we also want your political participation’.”

With Germany lacking 400,000 skilled workers, employers say the changes cannot come soon enough.

“Removing bureaucratic hurdles to naturalise software engineers and nursing staff,” said Mr Markus Jeger, SME federation head, “can prove an important advantage for Germany in the long term.”