Politique et immigration

Is the right to nationality identical in all EU countries?

Go No Go, Les Frontières de l'Europe 1998-2002. Turkish immigrant with his lawyer at a court hearing concerning his residence permit. Amsterdam, Netherlands, 2001. Ad Van Denderen / Agence Vu'
Go No Go, Les Frontières de l'Europe 1998-2002. Turkish immigrant with his lawyer at a court hearing concerning his residence permit. Amsterdam, Netherlands, 2001. Black and white silver print on baryta paper, 60 x 80 cm. Musée national de l'histoire et de l'immigration © Ad Van Denderen / Agence Vu'

French influence on the various European civil codes in modern times

Until the end of the Ancien Régime, the right to nationality was governed by the jus soli principle inherited from serfdom. The French Civil Code, introduced into Europe by the Napoleonic conquests, replaced jus soli with jus sanguinis. The United Kingdom and Ireland, which were not occupied by the French Empire, remained under the jus soli system, which explains the still essential distinction between the Anglo-Saxon jus soli and the jus sanguinis that prevails in most other countries.

Taking immigration into account in European law

However in the mid-19th century, France introduced jus soli in an immigration context in response to the labour shortage and demographic decline. It was not until the early 1980s and 1990s, faced with the realisation that they had become countries that people were immigrating to and settling in, that the European nations altered their right to nationality by introducing some elements of jus soli. In 1999, Germany, a country long viewed as the very symbol of jus sanguinis, altered its code, enabling young people of foreign origin to acquire German nationality more easily. Since January 1st 2000, the children of foreigners born on German territory, of foreign parents also born in Germany and having lived there for a long period, were now German from birth. They are allowed to keep another nationality where applicable.
In Italy, being born on Italian soil does not automatically grant Italian nationality. According to law 91 of 1992, Italy only grants nationality to a child if one of the parents is of Italian nationality (the same applies in Switzerland). For the others, the law is very restrictive, since they must show proof of having resided there for 10 continuous years for some, and for those born in Italy, they can only start the administrative procedure on reaching the age of 18 and showing proof of continuous residence. The Italian resistance to this wave of balancing jus soli and jus sanguinis stems partly from the size of its immigrant population, who enjoy considerable rights in terms of nationality (right of filiation) and citizenship (vote…), including for their descendants.
In the United Kingdom, any person born in the country before January 1st 1983 is a British citizen. After that date, at least one of the parents must be British or authorised to reside without limitation in the United Kingdom (which has been the case until now for citizens of European Union countries).
Following a referendum in 2004, Ireland restricted its absolute jus soli, which also concerned people born in Northern Ireland. A child is now only born Irish if his foreign parents have been living in Ireland for three of the four previous years.
In Denmark, a child born of foreign parents is only Danish if he lived in the country for the first 19 years of his life.
Jus soli is recognised alongside jus sanguinis in around 30 countries, essentially on the American continent. Children born in the USA, Canada, Chile, Mexico, Argentina or Ecuador are thus automatically granted citizenship of the country.

Double jus soli

Other countries, in addition to jus soli, apply conditional jus sanguinis. France, Spain and Belgium practise "double jus soli": a child born in the country acquires the nationality of the country if at least one of his parents was also born there.
Moreover, any person born in Spain can obtain the right to nationality after just one year of residence there. In Belgium, a child is Belgian if his or her parents were living in the country for five of the previous ten years.
A child born in France of foreign parents automatically acquires nationality on reaching the age of 18 if he has lived there for at least five years. Comparable systems are in force in Germany and Luxembourg.

Towards a plurality of allegiances

The evolution common to almost all the European countries demonstrates a fact and an acceptance: each one of these countries has acknowledged (and expects) that the growth of its population is also happening through immigration. New dual nationality phenomena are appearing, when the jus soli of host countries combines with the jus sanguinis of countries of origin, particularly for countries of Muslim culture. Dual nationality is part of the plurality of allegiances, the plurality of experience of nationality and citizenship in European countries. And yet many dual nationals are not even aware that they still have the nationality of their parents’ homeland (the case of Algerians for example). That may help relativize the debates that have appeared around “dual nationals” and their assumed illegitimacy or lack of belonging.

Mustapha Harzoune, 2022