The federal government wants to ease the naturalization rules

BERLIN (dpa) – The social-liberal federal government is pushing ahead with plans to relax naturalization rules in the European Union’s most populous country, which are being contested by the conservative opposition.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in a video message on Saturday that Germany has long since become the “land of hope” for many and that it is good if people who have put down roots in the country decide to pursue citizenship.

“Germany needs better rules for the naturalization of all these great women and men,” said Scholz.

The overhaul of citizenship rules is one of a series of modernization reforms agreed upon by the three-party coalition of Scholz’s centre-left Social Democrats, the environmentalists and the pro-business Free Democrats when they took office last December. The draft law is “almost ready,” said the Ministry of the Interior on Friday.

Last year’s coalition agreement stipulates that German citizenship can be acquired after five years or three in the case of “special integration achievements” instead of after eight or six years as previously. Children born in Germany would automatically become citizens if one parent had been legally resident there for five years.

The government also wants to lift restrictions on holding dual citizenship. In principle, most people from countries outside the European Union and Switzerland currently have to give up their previous citizenship when they acquire German citizenship, with a few exceptions.

Home Secretary Nancy Faeser argued that reducing the waiting time for naturalization was “an incentive to integrate”.

The aim is to reflect reality, she said on Friday. “We are a diverse, modern immigration country and I think legislation needs to reflect that.”

Official statistics show that around 131,600 people acquired German citizenship last year, a quarter of them nationals of other EU countries. The number was 20% higher than in the previous year, also because more and more Syrians were naturalized. The total population of Germany is around 84 million.

The largest centre-right opposition bloc, Union, opposes plans to liberalize naturalization laws.

“The cheap sale of German citizenship does not promote integration – it aims for exactly the opposite and will trigger additional ‘pull effects’ for illegal migration,” said the highest-ranking conservative member of the Bundestag, Alexander Dobrindt, to the Bild daily newspaper on Saturday.

“Five years is a very, very short time” until people become naturalized, Union chief whip Thorsten Frei told ZDF.

Among other liberalization plans, the government has scraped a ban on “advertising” abortion services by doctors from Germany’s penal code. It has lowered the minimum voting age for European Parliament elections from 18 to 16 and wants to do the same for national elections.

She also wants to scrap and replace 40-year-old laws that require transgender people to seek a psychological evaluation and a court decision before officially changing their gender with a new “self-determination law”. And it aims to decriminalize possession of limited amounts of cannabis and allow sale to adults for recreational purposes in a controlled market.

Some of the plans could face difficulties in the upper house of parliament, which represents Germany’s 16 state governments and where Scholz’s coalition does not have a majority. It had to water down elements of an overhaul of unemployment benefits to get through this week.

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