To be or not to be Danish: that is the question!

Hamlet Castle Ruslan Kapral FlickrBy Thomas Huddleston, MPG Programme Director on Migration and Integration

International Migrants’ Day is usually a day marked by speeches full of empty words and press releases calling for action. Today, the Danish Parliament celebrated December 18 by passing its long-awaited reform to allow dual nationality. Symbolically important, Denmark becomes the 18th EU Member State to fully accept dual nationality for naturalising immigrants and its citizens abroad.

Dual nationality advocates filled the galleries of the Danish Parliament as parliamentarians voted on the legislation, closely followed by the Copenhagen Post. Interestingly, the most active and visible advocates have been Danish expat associations, such as Worldwide Danes, as well as immigrants from EU and other developed countries who are long-term residents or in bi-national couples.

The left-of-centre coalition took three years to fulfill one of its 2011 campaign promises on immigration reform. This process started with a 2012 government panel (including EUDO-Citizenship Eva Ersboll), its 2014 report, and further parliamentary debate, which had started on this issue back in 2008. The panel’s report concluded that dual nationality should not be limited to citizens of only EU or NATO Member States, due to the non-discrimination standards in the European Convention on Nationality ratified by Denmark. The report also argued that dual nationality had limited ramifications when adopted in other countries, such as Sweden in 2001. According to Minister Hækkerup quoted in the Copenhagen Post:

“The government believes that it should be possible to have dual citizenship in a modern society such as the Danish one. The report conveys a number of benefits of dual citizenship in Denmark… There are no nightmare scenarios with dual citizenship.”

Denmark continues the recent global and European trend towards embracing dual nationality. As of today, 18 EU Member States no longer legally require naturalising immigrants to renounce their original nationality. Reforms were recently passed in Poland in 2012, the Czech Republic in 2013, and Latvia in 2013 and discussed in Bulgaria and Estonia.

The final EU Member States still limiting dual nationality are the three Baltic States, Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Germany, the Netherlands, Slovenia as well as Spain (at least on paper for immigrants from most countries). Unfortunately, Germany’s Grand Coalition only took one step towards reform this year by removing its unique restrictions on dual nationality for the 2nd generation but retaining them for the 1st generation from non-EU countries.

In practice, most of these resisting countries cannot avoid making exceptions to these rules for many naturalising immigrants on various grounds (e.g. humanitarian, impossibility, inaccessibility, and cost). And immigrants who meet these exemptions are often those that apply. For example, an estimated 40% of all naturalised immigrants in Denmark have been allowed to retain their original nationality in order to comply with international legal obligations.

Removing these formal renunciation requirements has been proven to remove one of the major obstacles to naturalisation. For example, MPG’s 2013 Immigrant Citizens Survey found that 50% of non-EU citizens surveyed in two German cities did not want to naturalise because of the renunciation requirement.

To date, Denmark has one of the lowest shares of naturalised immigrants in Northern Europe. As of 2013, only 50% of long-settled immigrants with ten or more years’ residence had acquired the citizenship in Denmark, as opposed to 67% in Finland, 76% in Norway, 84% in Iceland and 86% in Sweden. In Denmark, these numbers are even lower among non-EU citizens who, quantitative research suggests, receive the greatest benefits from naturalisation in terms of their socio-economic integration.

While MIPEX suggests that this reform will significantly boost naturalisation rates and integration outcomes of immigrants who meet the legal conditions, these conditions are some of the most restrictive in the developed world, on par with Austria, France, Spain and Switzerland. The minister summed it up well:

 “We won’t change a comma regarding what it takes to become a Danish citizen, so it’s all about people not needing to pick and choose.”

Still today, integration advocates have reasons to celebrate—not all is rotten in the state of Denmark!