Greek citizenship: a right without equal access

On Thursday, 5th of March 2020, the draft bill of the Ministry of Interior Strategic Development Perspectives of Local Authorities, Regulation of Issues of the Ministry of Interior and Other Provisions” was voted. This bill includes procedural changes aimed at a more efficient process of acquisition of Greek citizenship, but brings about substantial changes that limit the access of certain groups of the population.

On Thursday, 5th of March 2020, the draft bill of the Ministry of Interior Strategic Development Perspectives of Local Authorities, Regulation of Issues of the Ministry of Interior and Other Provisions”. This bill includes procedural changes aimed at a more efficient process of acquisition of Greek citizenship, but brings about substantial changes that limit the access of certain groups of the population.

In particular, in terms of administrative citizenship procedures the responsibility for carrying out the naturalization oath is transferred from the regional director of citizenship to the supervisors in order to speed up the process of completing the acquisition of Greek citizenship. In addition, the composition of the Citizenship Council which receives appeals and objections as well as case referrals from the naturalization committees is being redefined and a remuneration for its members has been introduced  towards improving its functioning. For a more efficient case management the Co-ethnic Greeks Naturalization Department is being reconstituted, which will focus exclusively on the examination of applications for Greek citizenship of co-ethnic Greeks. In addition, the right to lodge objections against the Naturalization Committee’s decisions is now also provided to co-ethnic Greeks from the former Soviet Union. Finally, in order to monitor and assess the functioning of the citizenship services, an Independent Monitoring and Evaluation Department is being set up under the Secretary-General of Citizenship.

Despite some of the positive administrative changes that the bill brings, the debate, its vote as well as the changes that were introduced at the last minute were all carried out in a way which concerns us. It should be pointed out that although this bill had been published for public consultation in November 2019, it did not however contain some of the provisions in the fourth chapter regarding citizenship which were added later on. Two of these such provisions were highlighted in the Joint Press Release we co-signed with the Hellenic League for Human Rights and the National Confederation of Disabled People on 24 February 2020. Following the press release, the government eventually declared it will withdraw the provision on minors with certified disability, which it did. To our disappointment however, the provision on stateless Roma was retained, despite the government’s relative statement to discuss its withdrawal.

Moreover, an amendment to the draft law was introduced on 04 March 2020, just one day before its vote in the Plenary. Article 4 of the amendment amends the Code of Greek Citizenship by increasing the requirement of a minimum of three to seven years’ residence in the country for recognized refugees in order to apply for naturalization. According to the statement of the Minister of Interior, Mr. Theodorikakos, who speaking in Parliament at a meeting of the Standing Committee on Public Administration, Public Order and Justice, he insisted that this change is taking place “because Greece cannot, especially nowadays, and especially at this time when the refugee problem has been instrumentalized […], be an attractive destination for people who enter the country illegally”. At this point it should be noted that recognized refugees are protected to the same extent as stateless persons by a number of international conventions which have been ratified by Greece, based on which the easier facilitation of their naturalization process is provided. Since 2004 our country has moved towards this direction under Article 5 of the Code of Greek Citizenship, by setting more favorable residence time requirements for refugees and stateless persons in order to apply for naturalization. As for the amendment’s justification that three years are not sufficient to “integrate these populations”, it probably does not take into account the reality of the procedures for granting refugee status  as well as those for  the acquisition of Greek citizenship through the naturalization process, which are extremely time consuming. According to the current pace, a recognized refugee applying for naturalization will be in the country for almost a decade by the time their citizenship process is completed.

Observing the overall developments regarding the acquisition of citizenship over the last period, these indicate an all-around setback as well as a general intention to restrict the established rights of certain groups of the population.