Thoughts on European Citizenship Part 3 – The Scottish Proposal

What would citizenship of an independent Scotland look like?
What would citizenship of an independent Scotland look like?

The purpose of this three part series has been to analyze how member countries of the European Union having no central standards for citizenship has lead to problems.  Part 1 looked at Malta’s attempt to raise capital by selling it citizenship.  Part 2 looked at Spain’s proposal to give citizenship to descendants of those expelled over 500 years ago.

This third post will look at the citizenship policy proposed by the Scottish National Party should the independence referendum on September 18th result in a Yes vote and compare it to the practices of other European Union countries.

As usual I would like to point out that I am a Librarian with a degree in political science, not a Lawyer and nothing in this post constitutes legal advice.

As we already know EU citizenship is supplemental to National Citizenship.  It is the fundamental right of every country to determine who is, and who is not, a citizen of that country.  The problem exposed by this post is that people of Scottish heritage are at a disadvantage to those with heritage in countries that make more liberal use of their Diasporas.

Currently Scotland is a constituent country of the United Kingdom.  Although some powers such as agriculture and education were devolved to the Scottish Parliament in 1999, authority for citizenship policy remains centralized at the Westminster Parliament in London.  Explaining all the caveats and asterisks associated with UK nationality law is too complicated to go into in much detail.  For the purposes of this post I am only going to analyze citizenship by decent, that is, the ability of one generation to transmit citizenship to the next generation.

Since being modernized in 1983 citizenship of the United Kingdom can only be transmitted to the first generation born abroad.  There are asterisks involved if the transmitting parent is male or female, or for if the parents were married, but this is far too complicated for our purposes.  As a constituent country of the United Kingdom Scotland is bound by the terms set by Westminster.

The United Kingdom’s first generation rule is in stark contrast to other countries in the European Union that have traditionally been population exporting countries.  Mary Robinson made what many people feel to be a successful organization of the worldwide Irish diaspora during her term as President of the that Country.  Something working in her favour is that the Republic of Ireland allows anyone with an Irish-born grandparent to register as a citizen of that country.  It is interesting to note that this can continue in perpetuity if each subsequent generation registered for citizenship prior to the birth of the next generation.  Given the European Union’s rules of freedom of movement this means that anyone with an Irish grandparent can live, work, and study in Scotland, while someone with a Scottish born grandparent cannot.  A couple of years ago this led to an interesting situation involving the tuition free education Scottish residents receive.

In England the Westminster Government has allowed the cost of University tuition to spiral.  The Scottish Government meanwhile has prioritized providing free education to UK Citizens resident in Scotland.  Due to EU rules, Scotland can impose fees on UK citizens from outside Scotland, but must treat citizens of other EU countries the same as Scottish residents.  This functionally meant that a citizen of Ireland could study for free at a Scottish University, but a citizen of the United Kingdom resident in England, Wales or Northern Ireland could not.

However, for political reasons the Republic of Ireland claims rights to the entire territory of the Island of Ireland, so anyone born in Northern Ireland also qualifies for a Republic of Ireland passport .  This means anyone born in Northern Ireland, who is by definition a citizen of the United Kingdom, could study for free in Scotland using their Irish passport, while those in England and Wales could not.  The Scottish government passed a law requiring Northern Irish students with Republic of Ireland passports to be resident for three months outside Northern Ireland before they could qualify for free tuition.  While there is not much evidence that this loophole was even being exploited, it serves as an interesting example of the problems with competing legal frameworks within a transnational organization.

Another example is Italy, which allows for people born abroad with an Italian-born Great-Grandfather to register for citizenship.  This has caveats specifically related to date of death, date of birth, the transmitting line being male or female, and requires the transmitting line to be unbroken meaning that the great-grandfather must have fathered the grandfather prior to naturalizing in the host country (this rule was abolished when Italy allowed dual citizenship in the 1990s but was not retroactive).

The newest EU country Croatia allows their citizenship to be obtained via a Croatian born grandparent.  Therefore my ex-girlfriend whose grandparents were born in what is now Croatia has the potential to register as a citizen of that country and in time exercise her mobility rights to live and work in Scotland.

It is difficult for me to remain detached from this subject.  As someone with a Scottish Grandparent it just seems to me that I should have as much right to contribute to Scotland as someone with Irish, Italian or Yugoslav heritage.  At the moment this is not the case because of the intersection between EU and UK law.

This leads me to the proposal by the Scottish National Party.  On September 18th 2014 people living in Scotland will vote in a referendum answering the question “Should Scotland be an Independent Country?”.  The White Paper “Scotland’s Future” released by the Scottish Government proposes that just like the Republic of Ireland an independent Scotland would allow anyone with a Scottish born Grandparent to register as a Scottish citizen.

When analyzing this it is useful to refer back to Viviane Reding’s assertion that EU countries should only provide citizenship in “a spirit of sincere cooperation with the other member states…[and] should only award citizenship to persons where there is a genuine link or genuine connection to the country in question”.  Does this proposal meet that criteria?  Under this proposal I would have the ability to instantly become a Scottish/EU citizen by completing some paperwork.  This is despite the fact that the closest I have ever been to Scotland was sitting on Hadrian’s Wall about 15 years ago.  Do I have a genuine link or genuine connection to Scotland?

If you asked me the question “Do You Feel Scottish” I would say yes.  I actually knew my Scottish born Grandmother, and have some vague memories of my Scottish-born Great-Grandmother.

Speaking for myself, if the referendum is successful and this law does eventually pass I probably would become a Scottish passport holder.  Would I uproot myself and move to Glasgow the next day?  Probably not.  But nor would I uproot myself tomorrow and move to Alberta.  As a Canadian who lives and works in Ontario I have the potential to bring my talents and energies to another province if that is where my life directed me.  This proposal would allow me to do the same in Scotland, and depending on how successor countries are treated by the European Union, potentially to the rest of Europe.

At the moment as the grandson of a Scottish-born person I could apply for a UK Ancestry Visa.  This would allow me to live and work in the UK for 5 years.  While I recognize it was forward thinking of the Westminster government to devise this scheme we are still left with people of British ancestry being at a disadvantage to those of non-British ancestry.  While I could apply for a visa and then apply for a job, I would be limited to working in the United Kingdom.  Someone with an Irish or Italian grand-parent could live and work anywhere in the EU, including Scotland.  While the very existence of the European Union opens up questions about diluting the meaning of national citizenship, it is clear that the current political establishment in Scotland sees the potential benefit of a more liberal citizenship policy putting their country on an equal footing as other EU countries.

There is no direct financial gain for Scotland to adopt a more liberal citizenship policy so I doubt this direction would create the backlash we witnessed in the Maltese proposal.  While I can make the argument that the Spanish proposal is taking citizenship by descent much too far, most countries are in agreement that a generation or two is a genuine link to the country.

At the moment this is entirely academic.  Opinion polling suggests that the referendum is probably going to be a victory for the “No” side.  Even if 50% of the voters vote yes, the soonest Scotland could actually become an independent country is 2016, and even then some speculate that this is not nearly enough time to negotiate the breakup of a country.  Furthermore the question on the referendum is about independence itself.  The “Scotland’s Future” whitepaper that sets out this proposal is a political platform that would only be adopted in the event that the Scottish National Party forms a government following separation.

Although there have been vague promises of more powers being devolved to Scotland if the Better Together side wins, I suspect citizenship powers would remain centralized in Westminster.  At the moment David Cameron seems less interested in debating the future of Scotland and more interested in a futile effort to ban internet pornography.

Interestingly, with all the debate surrounding the “IndyRef” next month I have seen very little debate on the subject of this citizenship policy.  What we can conclude from this is debatable.  It could be that the the big ticket issues like currency, oil revenue and the democratic deficit are of more pressing concern to the Scottish electorate.  Or it could be that this proposal is really not that controversial when Ireland has an almost identical law.

We shall see what happens on September 18th.

Thoughts on European Citizenship Part 2 – The Spanish Proposal

The Spanish proposal could create millions of new Spanish citizens
The Spanish proposal could create millions of new Spanish citizens

In Part 1 on this series I examined the proposal by Malta to essentially sell its citizenship to

high paying investor immigrants without requiring much substantive investment, residence, or connection to the country.  In this post I would like to look at the proposal by Spain to give their citizenship to descendants of Sephardi Jews who were banished from the country during the Inquisition.

During the uproar over the Maltese proposal, Viviane Reding said in her capacity as European Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship that the EU expects member states to award citizenship in “a spirit of sincere cooperation with the other member states…[and] should only award citizenship to persons where there is a genuine link or genuine connection to the country in question”.

Before I got any further with this post I would like to stress that I am a Librarian, not a lawyer.  I am just an amateur researcher interested in this topic and no information found on this blog should be considered legal advice.

My research on this topic is complicated by two things : Firstly I do not speak or read Spanish so I am reliant on English language Media.  Secondly, this bill has not yet become law.  In short I am analyzing media reports of a bill which I have not independently reviewed.

The European History that provides the reasoning for this bill could fill a book. In summary on the 31st of March 1492 King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain issued the Alhambra Decree (alternatively known as the Edict of Expulsion), which ordered that the Jewish population of Spain (known as Sephardi) to either convert to Christianity or face expulsion from Spain.  In July 1492 those who did not convert were expelled from the Kingdom.  The actual number of people in the exiled Jewish population is unknown.  The site I link to above estimates it at 200,000.    This article estimates that there were 300,000 Jews in Spain in 1492.  This article estimates 225,000.  Whatever the number, many of them fled to Portugal where they were expelled again in 1496, and also to North Africa and the Ottoman Empire.  In a symbolic gesture similar to Galileo being pardoned, the Alhambra Degree was formally revoked in the 1960s.

Since the 1960s the various Spanish governments have taken an official position of reconciliation.  Current Spanish naturalization rules already take this into account as Sephardi Jews need only live in Spain for two years to apply for naturalization, in comparison to ten years for those without a Spanish or Iberoamerican connection.

This proposal takes it to the next step.  Under current Spanish naturalization rules one can be “Spanish by Origin” or “Spanish Not By Origin”, with Origin meaning a person being naturalized is a citizen of former Spanish territorial possession such as Portugal or much of South America.  Those who naturalize as Spanish by Origin can be dual citizens, whereas those who are Spanish Not By Origin must renounce their alternative citizenship.  Currently those naturalizing under Sephardi rules are naturalizing Not By Origin.

In 2014 a bill was proposed in Spain which would replace the naturalization rules for Sephardi Jews with a new rule providing full Citizenship by Origin to descendants of the original Sephardi exiles.  According to some reports this would be Citizenship by Origin allowing the new Spanish citizen to keep their original passport.  Naturally this has generated significant interest in Israel where approximately 1.4 million Sephardi Jews live.

So what exactly would be required to obtain Spanish Citizenship in this way?  Until the bill actually becomes law its anyone’s guess.  Would one have to actually be Jewish in order to qualify or is descent enough?  How does one actually prove descent?  Since there are no firm records of who was expelled how would descent be traced back?  Even if one is probably descended from someone who was exiled  genealogy records can be notoriously spotty, especially around World War II, and become progressively more difficult the further you go back.  Proposed episodes of the celebrity genealogy show Who Do You Think You Are have had to be cancelled because no records for those with Jewish ancestry could be found.  The work and luck required to be able to trace your lineage back more than 3 or 4 generations is immense.  How will people be able to go back 522 years?  Would genetic testing results be enough to prove descent?

When I think about the possible ramifications of this proposal I think about a French-Canadian man named Zacharie Cloutier.  Cloutier was born around 1590 and had five surviving children.  By the year 1800 he had at least 10,850 descendants.  As the centuries have continued that number  of people descendant from Zacharie has become astronomical to the point where Zacharie Cloutier is a common ancestor of the Duchess of Cornwall, Shania Twain, Celine Dion, Madonna, Hillary Clinton and Anjelina Jolie to name just a few.

The blog Sephardic Geneaology has a helpful post analyzing the actual text of the draft proposal as it existed in February 2014.  According to this post there would be six methods by which one could claim citizenship under this bill :

1. A certificate from the General Secretariat of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain saying the applicant is of Sephardic origin.

2. A certificate from the Rabbinical Authority legally recognized in the country in which the applicant resides.

3. Family names, languages, or other evidence of applicants connection to the Sephardic Community.

4. If said person was included in a list of Sephardic families protected by Spain such as the decree of December 29th, 1948 or those who obtained special naturalization through the royal decree of December 20th, 1924.

5. The applicant can prove linkage to person or family member who the previous stipulation applies to.

6. In the event the application is sent to the civil registry office in charge of the residence of the applicant it will consider any applicant’s sign of belonging to the Spanish community in their area.

In March Spain’s Minister of Justice gave a speech in New York City where he provided some information.  He repeated the often quoted proposal that having a common Sephardi surname would be grounds for citizenship, and that applicants would be asked to submit certifications for local Rabbis.  A list of common Sephardi surnames was picked up by several news organizations and incorrectly identified as an official Spanish government list.  Interestingly this created a stir in the Philippines where many people with those surnames suddenly thought they could become Spanish Citizens, although chances of a Filipino having actual Sephardi exile lineage is slim.  When asked about the case of Syrian Jews, many of whom consider themselves Sephardi although most are not descended from those exiled in 1492 the Justice Minister said that the government’s intent was not to be overly strict and “we are opening a door”.


This brings me back to Vivian Reding’s assertion that EU citizenship should only be awarded to those with a genuine connection to an EU country.  Do the people who could be covered by this proposed law have a genuine connection with Spain?    For comparison, since 1949 German law has allowed descendants of Jews who fled during the holocaust to have their citizenship restored, and approximately 100,000 Israeli’s hold German passports.  In both cases the stated objective of providing citizenship is to right a historical wrong.  The difference is that less than a century has passed since Germany stripped its Jewish population of its citizenship.  It is easy to make the case that those covered by the German rules have a genuine connection to Germany.  In most cases the generation whose citizenship was stripped is within living memory.

Traditionally a generation has been defined as about 20 years, but modern scholars think of it being around 25 years.  Even if we are generous and consider a generation to be 25 years that means that 20 generations have passed since the original exiles left Spain.  I have no idea what my ancestry is like 20+ generations ago.  For all I know I might qualify under this proposal.

The way I see it, this proposal could go two ways.  One, the rules will be so restrictive that the new law will be functionally symbolic or Two, the rules will be loose enough that it will open up citizenship to an enormous pool of people.

Some articles suggest this could create upwards of 3 million Spanish citizens although as the example of Zacharie Cloutier points out the actual number of descendants could be astronomical.  Just like those who might obtain passports via the Maltese proposal all these people will have the right to live and work in any of the 28 EU countries.  Some have suggested that this proposal is little more than a vehicle to create a pool of people who can invest and buy property in Spain to revive its shattered economy.

So why did the Maltese proposal create such an instant backlash, whereas this proposal did not?  Is it the fact the citizenship is not being directly exchanged for money, but rather for the hypothetical potential of future investment?  Granted Jewish history in Europe is littered with violence and this is naturally a source of historical facepalming, but this proposal has the potential to give millions of people the right to live and work in the EU with no requirement that they have any financial or residential ties to the country providing them the passport, just like the Maltese proposal.

This article by the Economist suggests that with Spain’s current economic crisis few people who qualify will actually take up residence in Spain.  But this does not preclude someone from taking up Spain’s offer of a Passport and setting up residency in England, Germany or any other strong European economy.

Perhaps it was the overly financial overtones of the Maltese proposal that caused the backlash?  Perhaps this proposal will face a backlash once the actual criteria for inclusion are widely know.

In Part 3 of this series I will take a look at Scotland’s proposal for citizenship should its referendum in September be successful, and compare that proposal to how other European countries make citizens.

As a final note I did not link to this article anywhere in the post but I recommend reading this article from the Jewish Daily Forward.

Thoughs on European Citizenship – Part 1 The Maltese Proposal

Citizenship for sale? - image source
Citizenship for sale? – image source

Today I would like to look into the problems associated by the European Union having no standard policy on citizenship.  In Part one I will examine the problems associated with Malta’s proposal to sell their citizenship to a handful of wealthy clients.  In Part 2 I will examine Spain’s proposal to give away their passports to potentially millions of descendants of exiled Spaniards.  In Part 3 I will examine the proposal of Alex Salmond’s government to provide Scottish citizenship to the third generation born abroad should Scotland’s referendum prove successful in September.

Before you read this I want to emphasize that I am a Librarian who is an amateur researcher on this subject.  Nothing in this post, or indeed this blog, should be considered to be legal advise or binding legal analysis.

In 1992 an EU treaty created the concept of European Union citizenship.  EU citizens have certain rights in all countries of the EU, including the right to vote in European wide and municipal elections, but more importantly the ability to live and work in any member state of the Union.  Fundamentally, EU citizenship is supplemental to national citizenship.  This means that one is British, or French, of German, or Swedish first and European second.  It is impossible to be a citizens of the European Union without also, and first, being a citizen of one of the now 28 member countries of the Union.  The ability to create rules about who is, and who is not, a citizen of your country is something that has never been relinquished by the member states and consequently European nations have no standardization in their citizenship and nationality laws.

The Economic crisis has shattered the fragile economies of many of Europe’s smaller countries and consequently they have been looking at new ways of generating revenue.  Both the Maltese and Spanish proposals I am going to analyze appear to be at some level about generating potential revenue, but they differ is how their directness.

Recently the Republic of Malta was heavily criticized by other EU countries for a proposal that would alter Maltese law to allow the country to provide Maltese citizenship (and its supplementary EU citizenship) to wealthy investors.  The cost of Maltese citizenship was reported to be 650 thousand Euros (nearly 1 million Canadian dollars).  News reports on this program suggest the sale would bring in anywhere from 30 million to 1 billion Euros for the Maltese treasury.

It is hardly unusual for countries to provide a mechanism for the wealthy to immigrate.  Canada had its Economic Investor Program for a decade until it stopped taking new applicants in 2012 and is scheduled to be concluded in 2014 amid criticism that it did not bring in sufficient long term benefit to Canada.  For political reasons too long to get into here Quebec also runs a parallel program which allows residency to those who loan the Canadian economy 800 thousand Canadians dollars interest free for a period of time.  The major criticism of Quebec’s program is that while Quebec keeps the cash, most of the immigrants accepted to the program promptly settle in other provinces, primarily in Vancouver, British Columbia.

This was the danger of Malta’s proposed program.

The original proposal from Malta would provide almost instant citizenship in Malta (and the European Union) for anyone wealthy enough to pay for it.  Citizenship for dependents of the main consumer would also be purchased at 25 thousand Euros each.  After this, the program did not require any sort of investment or residency in Malta itself.

It is not unreasonable to see why members of the European parliament spent over an hour complaining about this proposal.  To most anyone viewing this from the outside, the Maltese proposal was an attempt to do exactly what the Quebecois program was criticized for : economic advantage of immigration enjoyed by one state/province with all its associated costs born by another.  The Canadian/Quebecois program only provided residency, after which citizenship could be obtained after a few years of living in Canada as a Permanent Resident.  The Maltese proposal would have given instant citizenship of the European Union to anyone with a large enough bank account without any incentives for that person to establish roots in Malta.  Just like the Canadian example its a quick deduction that anyone wealthy enough to buy citizenship would establish themselves in larger/wealthier countries of the EU, most likely the United Kingdom and Germany.

Ultimately the Maltese government’s proposal crumbled against EU pressure, and has been amended so that rather than outright buying passports, the Maltese plan will be more similar to the program managed by other countries, namely by exchanging cash for permanent resident status and the ability to naturalize after a short period of time.  In Malta’s case this would allow for naturalization after one year (in comparison anyone going the regular route must wait 5 years before naturalization).

This concession was announced in a joint statement by the Maltese government and the European Commission, and supposedly this brings the Maltese experiment in line with the wishes of the wider European community by requiring some level of commitment and residency in Malta by the investor citizens.  According to a speech by Viviane Reding the current European Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights, and Citizenship, the EU expects member states to award citizenship in “a spirit of sincere cooperation with the other member states….[and] should only award citizenship to persons where there is a genuine link or genuine connection to the country in question”.

Does 365 days spent in a country create a genuine connection or a genuine link to Malta?  If this is the case why must people who are not wealthy wait 1825 days before becoming Maltese?  The one-year-rule compromise simply means that Malta will have to live with the cost of these investor immigrations for one year before these people can ultimately use Malta as a stepping stone to a preferred European destination.  In the end, regardless of the speeches about sincere cooperation and genuine connection the attraction of spending up to a million Canadian dollars on this program will be quick and permanent access to the 28 European Union member states and all the potential the European Union citizenship provides

In my next post I am going to contrast the Maltese proposal with the proposed Spanish passport giveaway.