Dual Fears

01/17/2012 12:48 pm 12:48:16 | Updated Mar 18, 2012

The Netherlands is one of the few countries in the world that successfully managed to stick the word "tolerance" to its international branding. Yet, over the past 10 years a chill wind has been blowing through the nation of orange. An increasingly sharp stance -- fueled by fear -- against new immigrants, especially from Muslim countries, has been capturing newspapers' headlines on a daily basis.

The public face of the anti-immigrant sentiment is Geert Wilders, a member of the Dutch parliament. His "Freedom Party" (PVV), while not forming part of the government, has a pivotal role supporting the current center-conservative minority coalition. Wilders extends his views in the U.S. as well, as a commentator on Fox News and as a vocal opponent against the "Ground Zero mosque" in New York.

Sadly depicting the informal power of the Freedom Party, the Ministry of Internal Affairs has been racketing up its efforts to make immigration harder in various ways. Whilst this may be an amazing story in itself in a time that the economy is suffering and new blood is in urgent demand, one specific restricting bill -- regarding dual citizenship -- almost passed by unnoticed.

Almost.

This bill seeks to end multiple citizenship for all Dutch people in the world. Immigrants who wish to naturalize and become Dutch citizens must relinquish their former nationality. Conversely, Dutch people living abroad and assuming the nationality of their country of residence will lose their Dutch citizenship without any exception. The current law, which is comprised of this 19th-century default rule, at least knows some important exceptions (such as being married to someone from the country of residence) -- but these exceptions are all about to be eliminated.

Looking at current Dutch society, one can qualify this bill as both symbolic and unrealistic. Symbolic, because the main "target" of this bill and the Freedom Party are the Moroccans residing in the Netherlands: but they cannot give up their Moroccan citizenship, even if they wish to. Along with 18 other countries in the world, the Moroccan government does not allow renunciation of its citizenship - a fact the Dutch government, obviously, knew before drafting the bill.

The bill is also unrealistic: taking away one's citizenship does not imply taking away someone's homegrown identity, nor does the accrual of a new citizenship imply the sudden internal acceptance of an exclusionary loyalty.

The other side of the coin is problematic, too. Perhaps not intended as such, the consequence of this bill is that twice as many Dutch people abroad than "new" Dutch in the Netherlands are affected in a restrictive manner. Not only will they and their children lose their Dutch citizenship while assuming a different nationality (oftentimes for purely practical reasons); the possibility to regain Dutch citizenship will be much harder than before.

Last October, the Dutch organization Worldconnectors and local affiliates of Dutch political parties in New York started an online petition to fight the adoption of this bill. Within a very short time, almost 20,000 people from all over the world signed, garnering national press on numerous occasions and getting explicit attention from parliament and government. Despite the earlier intention of the government to have the bill sent to parliament by the end of last year, recently the new Minister of Internal Affairs suddenly decided to brand the issue suddenly as less relevant. For now, it seems that because of the pressure the government is backing off and it is unclear whether the bill will be up to a vote at all.

This seems the smart thing to do. No one stands to gain from this. Least of all the government itself, which would lose all those Dutch people that have established strong economic ties to their country of residence without giving up their Dutch pride. Beyond this bill, the Dutch government should go further, abolish the general rule against dual citizenship and embrace it as an innocent consequence of current globalization. Where's the harm? More and more countries are accepting multiple citizenship, acknowledging the benefits for the state involved. The Economist rightly points out that "by seeking to toughen its nationality laws, the Netherlands is bucking a global trend."

Recent polls indicate that, slowly, Wilders' party seems to be losing its overwhelming support. This is a great opportunity for the government to reflect whether it wants to be seen both as anti-immigrant and as a rejecter of its own citizens. For change, it is never too late.