Naturalization becomes a “privilege” for a few
In the context of the public consultation on the draft law “Amendment of the Greek Citizenship Code, new framework for the selection of executives in the public sector, organizational provisions of the Ministry of Interior and provisions for the development perspective of local authorities” of the Ministry of Interior, which started on 27 August 2020 and is completed today, on 10 September 2020, Generation 2.0 for Rights, Equality and Diversity submitted its comments on opengov.gr. This legislative proposal brings substantial changes to naturalization. According to the Ministry, its goal is to ensure transparency, speed and efficiency. However, what is reflected in the new provisions is a negative shift in the granting of Greek citizenship, turning naturalization into a “privilege” for a few, excluding people who have been fully integrated into the life of the country for years. It excessively tightens some of the essential conditions that allogeneic foreigners must meet in order to be naturalized, while further obstacles to the naturalization process seem to emerge. More specifically in relation to these two axes:
Essential conditions for naturalization: economic and social integration
Two new criteria are introduced to verify the economic integration of applicants: stable work in the country and a minimum annual income (article 3, par. 1). With these provisions, at first, the Greek reality, which was characterized by a generalized crisis, a deep recession of the economy and a rise in unemployment rates during recent years, is completely ignored. At the same time, the introduction of such a vague legal concept as “stable work” but also of income criteria can lead to discrimination in favor of “those who have” and against those who do not have.
Regarding the verification of social integration (article 3, par. 2), the criterion of creating a family tie with a Greek citizen is tightened, paving the way for an arbitrary connection of the marital status of the individual with the right to citizenship.
As for the specifications of the new procedure (Article 6): Firstly, the requirement to pay an exam fee of two hundred and fifty (250) euros for the written test will automatically increase the cost to 800 euros for the beneficiaries (250 euros exam fee + 550 euros naturalization fee). Secondly, the obligation to collect 80% of the maximum possible score for succeeding in the exams is unnecessarily high, especially if we consider that for foreign language degrees the required percentage of score to pass the exam is only 50% or 60%, while in higher education the minimum required qualification score is 5 out of 10. There is, therefore, a risk that these two elements will prevent beneficiaries who would like to apply for naturalization and reduce the chance of passing the exams for those who try.
The maintenance of the interview stage for applicants and the provision for its conduct by two employees of the General Secretariat of Citizenship raises concerns regarding the overall procedure. First of all, since the number of employees is not odd, what will be provided in cases of disagreement over the decision to accept or reject the naturalization application? Secondly, the maintenance of the oral interview is contrary to the government’s plan to replace it with written examinations for the sake of transparency, meritocracy and tackling the diversity of questions. In addition, no one can ultimately guarantee the speeding up of the process as these provisions may maintain or even add further delays instead of finally reducing the total time which is required for naturalization completion, as promised by those responsible for drafting the new bill.
Apart from the abovementioned problematic points, the degradation of the value of the State Certificates of Greek Studies in the naturalization process, the exclusion of persons with a certified mental disability from the special categories of applicants that are examined orally, the abolition of the possibility of submitting objections to the Citizenship Council, are some more elements that suggest the restriction of beneficiaries’ rights and access to citizenship.
The bill also provides for some positive provisions, such as the establishment of two new citizenship directorates in Athens and Thessaloniki for the faster examination of second-generation citizenship applications, the provision of a special examination procedure for people with learning disabilities, as well as the abolition of the condition of permanent residence in Greece from the day of application.
Wanting to insist on the problematic provisions but also to point out the positive ones, we hope that our comments will be taken into account in the final draft law that will be submitted to the Parliament in the near future, with the ultimate goal of a fairer naturalization system.