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Citizens by origin vs. citizens by naturalisation: in search for the Super Citizen

In many European countries citizenship tests, often consisting of an assessment of immigrants’ civic knowledge and language skills, have become more stringent in recent years – a development that has been well-documented in the literature, for example by Ricky van Oers and Sarah Wallace Goodman. However, we have seen that it remains unclear whether such tests are an adequate tool to test integration.

After zooming in on individual naturalisation requirements, other authors have noted that newly-naturalised citizens may be confronted with very specific expectations. From an analysis of the ‘good character’ requirement under Irish citizenship law Bashir Otukoya concludes that naturalised citizens may in certain circumstances be ‘semi-citizens with super-citizenship obligations’. While describing naturalised citizens as semi-citizens because their citizenship is less secure than that of citizens by origin, vague requirements such as proving ‘good character’ may lead to super-citizenship obligations for naturalised citizens, who are expected to meet an exalted standard of behaviour that is not expected of native born Irish citizens.

Sergio Carrera and recently Elisabeth Badenhoop have also written about the search for the perfect citizen in citizenship and migration law or the super citizen in the context of citizenship ceremonies. While Otukoya looked at the ‘good character’ requirement, Badenhoop has analysed the speeches given by local state representatives during naturalisation ceremonies in the UK and Germany, noting that ‘citizenship ceremonies provide a useful site at which to study the various layers of the state, because citizenship confers membership to the nation-state yet citizenship ceremonies are usually enacted by local state actors, and the degree to which they are regulated by central government varies significantly’. Citizenship ceremonies are a legal requirement in the UK but not in Germany, and the speeches given by state officials represent the element of the ceremony procedure which is least regulated.

Badenhoop concludes that the concept of the Super Citizen features prominently in speeches in both the UK and Germany:

The Super Citizen subjectivity expresses the idealised figure of the naturalised citizen who, in the eyes of local state representatives, personifies a combined potential to become a political, economic, and cultural asset to the nation-state, and should develop her/his own aspirations accordingly. As such, the Super Citizen forms an instrumental part of maintaining a specific self-image of the nation-state as an open and diverse society based on a competitive market economy and liberal democracy. Moreover, it encourages naturalised citizens to develop a new ‘moderate’ nationalism as a response to new far-right nationalism.

Badenhoop also makes interesting observations about the Super Citizen concept being part of the neoliberal logic in contemporary citizenship law, explaining that ‘the term Super Citizen was deliberately chosen as it implies an intensification and maximisation of efforts and, therefore, the logic of competition that is characteristic of neo-liberal subject-formation regimes’. As she explains in greater detail in her paper, ‘the Super Citizen subjectivity suggests to naturalised citizens that they should become a role model in at least three respects. The Super Citizen is held accountable to contribute to the democratic political system, the capitalist labour market, and the ethnically diverse society’.

This raises the question what international law has to say on the differentiation between citizens by birth and citizens by naturalisation. According to Article 5(2) of the 1997 European Convention on Nationality, a regional instrument initiated by the Council of Europe, the state parties ‘shall be guided by the principle of non-discrimination between its nationals, whether they are nationals by birth or have acquired its nationality subsequently’.

This is not necessarily a general rule under international law, however. In a well-known Advisory Opinion the Inter-American Court of Human Rights concluded that the distinction made under Costa Rican law between citizens by birth and by naturalisation as regards facilitated access to Costa Rican nationality did not violate Article 20 of the 1969 American Convention on Human Rights. While the case is better known for the observations made by the Court in respect of the right to a nationality, the privileged treatment in matters of nationality was also explicitly accepted by the Court, concluding that

the provision stipulating preferential treatment in the acquisition of Costa Rican nationality through naturalisation, which favours Central Americans, Ibero-Americans and Spaniards over other aliens, does not constitute discrimination contrary to the Convention. [Moreover,] it does not constitute discrimination contrary to the Convention to grant such preferential treatment only to those who are Central Americans, Ibero-Americans and Spaniards by birth.

Author: Dr. Olivier Vonk

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