Global Policy Forum

Migration-Germany: Some Uneasy Over New Citizenship Test


By Maricel Drazer

Inter Press Service
June 30, 2008

What are the colours of the German flag and how are they displayed? Who composed the Ninth Symphony and the "Ode to Joy"? What is the population of this country?

People applying for German citizenship will need to know the answers to these and other questions, as the Interior Ministry is preparing to usher in a Citizenship Test of general knowledge about the history, politics, geography and culture of Germany. The test is designed for foreign residents over 16 who wish to become German nationals.

The rule will apply from Sep. 1, and is additional to the existing requirements for naturalisation. Applicants must have lived in the country for at least eight years, have a proven command of the German language, be financially solvent, profess respect for the democratic system and have no criminal record.

The test will consist of 33 multiple-choice questions selected at random from a list of over 300, which will be made public beforehand. Candidates must answer more than half of the questions correctly in order to pass. They can prepare for the test by taking "integration courses", which have been offered since 2005 and teach German language, culture and history.

"We have to demonstrate our aptitude for many things, so why not for taking out citizenship?" argued Christian Democrat Wolfgang Schäuble, the interior minister. Chancellor Angela Merkel, also a Christian Democrat, has supported the measure from the start. She said she regards it as "legitimate", because citizenship should not be granted as just a rubber stamp procedure.

The new rule is the target of much criticism in political circles and immigrants' organisations. It is "counterproductive," said Social Democrat member of parliament Lale Akgün. At a plenary session of parliament, she ironically compared the test with the television question-and-answer contest "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" Safter í‡inar, spokesman for the Turkish Union in Berlin-Brandenburg (TBB), accused the national government of "having no interest in connecting people to this country." "It's one more link in the chain of discrimination," Marcela Polgar told IPS. "And because of the history and the racial and elitist overtones of 'being German', it's a particularly sensitive issue," said the young Argentine woman of Jewish family, a web page designer who has lived in Berlin for over a decade.

More than seven million foreigners live in this country, or nearly nine percent of the population. Most of them are Turkish. One out of every five people considered "foreigners" were actually born in Germany, but are not German citizens because of the principle of "jus sanguinis", which determines that a person's nationality depends on that of his or her parents.

Reforms to migration law, introduced in 2000 by the government of Social Democratic Chancellor Gerhard Schrí¶der (1998-2005), created the opportunity for people born on German territory to acquire citizenship, whatever the origin of their parents, according to the principle of "jus soli", which grants nationality according to one's place of birth. Between 2000 and 2006, over one million residents took German nationality, according to the latest available official statistics.

Opinion polls indicate wide support for the test among the German population. Nearly 70 percent of interviewees welcomed the initiative, according to surveys published in the press. "I'm in favour of this examination; I think foreigners who want German nationality should take an interest in the country they live in," Ursula, a 60-year-old homemaker from the Ruhr basin, an urban area in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, told IPS.

However, the saying about "the pot calling the kettle black" might be applied here. Last week, one of the main news programmes on the public television network, ARD, displayed the national flag on screen for 23 seconds, with the colours black, red and yellow -- those asked about in the Citizenship Test -- in the wrong order.

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