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Dual citizenship and franchise (2/2): passive suffrage

Today, we continue our discussion of the relation between dual citizenship and franchise by focusing on passive suffrage – that is, the right to stand for election. There is no international consensus on how to deal with this relation. It appears that in most (Western) countries naturalised and dual citizens can stand for election. However, comparative research shows that many countries in Latin America do not allow naturalised citizens to be elected. In Australia, naturalised citizens can be elected but anyone appointed to public office must first give up any other citizenship she/he may hold. As a result, Australia was confronted with a political crisis last year, when four MPs were forced to resign due to their dual citizenship.

This goes back to a decision by the High Court of Australia in which Article 44 of the Constitution was interpreted such that Australian nationals who also possessed another nationality could not be elected to the Federal Parliament.

The argument against dual citizenship among members of both parliament and government is that this may cast doubt on their loyalty to their country of residence. Apparently, it does not matter much of which other country the candidate is a citizen. In Switzerland dual French-Swiss and Italian-Swiss politicians have felt under an obligation to give up their non-Swiss citizenship before taking up office. As office holders are elected for a limited period of time only, and some countries even try to promote European integration by granting facilitated naturalisation to EU citizens (in Italy for example the residence requirement is reduced from ten to four years for EU citizens), citizenship renunciation seems a drastic measure.

In other contexts, the argument against dual citizenship may have some merit. In the Netherlands the issue became particularly salient since Geert Wilders’s “Freedom Party” (Partij voor de Vrijheid) entered the Dutch parliament. Resisting the appointment of two dual citizens of Moroccan-Dutch and Turkish-Dutch nationality respectively as State Secretary in 2007, Wilders would admittedly also criticize the appointment of a dual Dutch-Swedish politician in 2017. (An awkward coincidence in the discussion on dual nationality of high public figures in the Netherlands is the undeniable fact that former Dutch queen Beatrix, like her mother (Juliana) and grandmother (Wilhelmina) before her, possesses British nationality.)

According to Østergaard-Nielsen Turkey’s position seems to be that “the more established and influential the ‘Euro Turks’ in EU-countries get, the more they may represent Turkey and Turkish interests abroad”. The Moroccan king, in turn, is considered to rule over all his subjects, including those living in Europe. Renunciation of Moroccan nationality is practically impossible as Morocco adheres to the principle of perpetual allegiance. The more autocratic and theocratic nature of countries such as Turkey and Morocco, or in the Lithuanian context the presence of a large Russian-speaking minority, explains the hesitation towards dual citizenship in countries with large minorities or immigrant populations.

Still, most countries seem to conclude that excluding dual citizens from political functions altogether would go too far. The problem can normally be solved with a “conflict-of-interest approach”. Dual nationals can be appointed to a public office, but they should refrain from exercising an office that involves the interests of the other country whose nationality they hold. On the other hand, it can also be claimed that we have left behind the past, which was a world of hostility between nation-states in which interests rarely coincided. (See also our separate post about citizenship and military service.) In a globalizing world with more calls for cooperation, it is less likely for multiple citizens holding public office to be confronted with conflicting interests between the States of which they possess the nationality.

Author: Dr. Olivier Vonk

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