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Are you allowed to give up your citizenship voluntarily?

If we speak about dual citizenship, this is often perceived as a desirable status. At FCI we’ve spoken about some of the groups affected and the ways to secure a second citizenship, including birth tourism, dual citizenship among athletes and long-distance naturalisation.

It is often forgotten that citizenship has traditionally been based on allegiance, and that the link between subject and ruler could not easily be severed. As James Kettner has explained from a historical perspective, comparing the medial notion of allegiance with the modern one which came about after the French Revolution:

the medieval notion of “allegiance” reflected the feudal sense that personal bonds between man and lord were the primary ligaments of the body politic; the modern notion of “nationality” assumed a legal tie binding individuals to a territorial state and rendering them subject to its jurisdiction. The “community of allegiance” was in essence personal, the “nation state” primarily territorial.

A similar idea was already expressed in the 17th century court decision in Calvin’s case, which had an enormous influence in shaping the British ius soli doctrine and establishing the idea of natural and perpetual allegiance to the king. The argument went that since the king had received his authority from God, it was a fact of nature that persons born in his protection owed him perpetual allegiance. This in contrast to the ius sanguinis tradition that went back to Roman times, since ‘it was regarded as one of the firmest foundations of Roman liberty that the Roman citizen had the liberty to stay or abandon his citizenship at will’, according to Porter Morse.

One would think that the idea of “perpetual allegiance” is something of the distant past and that this relic would be absent from contemporary citizenship. Nothing could be farther from the truth, however, as a considerable number of countries still do not allow their citizens to give up their citizenship voluntarily. These countries, which are estimated to be around twenty in total, are mainly to be found in the Middle East and Latin America. In this connection, scholarship makes a distinction between two different types of “voluntary loss”: on the one hand, citizenship renunciation, in which case the law does not require the prior approval of the State; and, on the other, release, where the State’s approval is required for someone to be released of citizenship.

Morocco is among the countries that do not allow voluntary renunciation of citizenship. The Netherlands, having a considerable Dutch-Moroccan population and a long-standing policy of opposition to dual citizenship, has tried to persuade Morocco via diplomatic channels to allow for renunciation, most recently via a special government delegation in 2005, but so far to no avail. In practice this means that the legal requirement to give up any foreign citizenship upon acquiring Dutch citizenship cannot be enforced in respect of Moroccan citizens. (On a side note, the Netherlands also has a large Turkish population, similar to Germany. In contrast to the Moroccan nationality, the Turkish one can be renounced but the costs involved are often prohibitory.)

It is now the Dutch-Moroccan community itself, through a manifesto published on the website of the Netherlands’ foremost debate centre De Balie, which calls on the Dutch government and society to help in resisting the “long arm” of Morocco. Their plea has also made it to the front page of several major newspapers. They argue that they do not (wish to) have any bond with Morocco and that the Moroccan citizenship that is forced on them prevents them from being a full Dutch citizen. This is partly because they are still perceived by mono Dutch citizens as having a certain degree of loyalty towards Morocco, but also because of the concrete legal implications. As the Netherlands does not allow statelessness, for example, the Dutch citizenship of these dual citizens could in principle be revoked without the Netherlands violating its international obligation to prevent statelessness.

As stated in the manifesto:

Whether it’s birth, surnames, marriage, divorce, travel, sexual orientation, religion, secularism, death and inheritance, we always take into consideration Moroccan laws and penalties. The institutional corruption and the lack of the rule of law only make the threat more real.

The drafters of the manifesto also explicitly point to the hidden agenda of the Moroccan rulers, namely to obtain power and influence in Europe and to secure constant capital flows from Europe. Morocco is said to pursue an aggressive and intimidating strategy, and Dutch-Moroccan citizens have even suffered torture under previous Moroccan regimes for resisting the Moroccan rulers. In terms of diplomatic protection, there is little countries can do against a country of which their citizen also holds the nationality. While Morocco’s attempts to secure gender equality in its legislation are to be applauded, modifications to its citizenship law which allow transmission of citizenship through the mother has in a way only exacerbated the problem of Dutch-Moroccan children being indefinitely tied to Morocco.

Author: Olivier Vonk

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