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A citizenship is based on the nationality and identifies rights and obligations of a natural person in the State to which they belong. In most cases, the question of citizenship has to be answered with citizenship, the legal affiliation to the community (legal community) of citizens of a state, the citizens . Their nationality is not necessarily directly related to a state, since the latter as an ethnic- social term asks about origin and descent , on the other hand it can only mean nationality. The community of citizens of a state can be composed of many different nationalities with national majorities and minorities .

A state regulates the acquisition and loss of its citizenship as well as the associated rights and obligations in its own laws . In the German legal system, citizenship is usually acquired through birth and depending on the citizenship of the parents or through naturalization . Rules that are linked to citizenship are applied accordingly to legal persons as far as possible .

Citizenship establishes special rights as protective and defense rights against the state ( freedom of travel , extradition prohibition ) as well as claims to compensation in relation to third parties (consular protection, international litigation) and in democracies also rights to participate in state life in the sense of a status activus (political participation, participation in sovereignty ). In the modern understanding of the state, civil duties can be, for example, compulsory military service , compulsory elections or the obligation to pay taxes even if you are domiciled abroad .

In principle, citizenship can only be conveyed by a sovereign state within the meaning of international law . Citizenship is an individual expression of the state-constitutive element state people , according to which a state can only be regarded as such under international law as long as it has a state people in addition to national territory and state authority (→  three-element theory ). The legal relationships established by citizenship between state and citizen have an effect beyond the sovereign territory and are also recognized by other states.

Historically, citizenship is an “institution of the nation state ”. If the citizens (exclusively or predominantly) belong to a common nationality, one speaks of a (pure) nation state; the citizens belong to (mostly) different nationalities, we speak of a multinational state , multi-ethnic state , also isolated from Plurinationalstaat or a multicultural state .

Citizenship is in a issued to the person document, such as the identity card or passport , conjecturally documented. In some countries, the nationality is also indicated. Official proof of citizenship in Germany can be provided with the citizenship card, which is issued upon application.

Citizenship certificate in Germany

History of Citizenship

Citizenship as a permanent link between state and person already existed at the time of the polis in ancient Greece. This was differentiated in ancient Rome, where the Roman citizenship almost a prerequisite for the legal capacity or Postulationsfähigkeit was and a self-contained legal system demarcated, which to be Corpus Juris Civilis (civil law) developed, while the Ius Gentium (dt. "Law of the peoples ”) regulated the relations of Rome to other countries, states, peoples and was a forerunner of today's international law . Roman citizens (Romanus) were the free inhabitants of Rome at the time of the republic, later also the inhabitants of Lazio and after the alliance war the inhabitants of a large part of Italy. With the decree of the Constitutio Antoniniana in 212 AD, the free inhabitants of the Roman Empire became Roman citizens.

If a Roman citizen settled in a city outside Italy, he and his descendants remained citizens of Rome. Durability is again the basic principle of citizenship today.

Citizenship in the modern sense has only arisen since the French Revolution through the emergence of republican thought, was regulated in the Revolutionary Constitution of September 3, 1791 in Part 2, Section 2 and was later incorporated into the Civil Code . Since then, the state has been understood not only as a territorial state or as a personal assignment to the absolutist monarchy , but also as an association of citizens. In the course of the 19th century, citizenship was introduced in most states and citizenship laws were passed.

Terms in the German-speaking area

In German-speaking, both the term is "nationality" (English nationality ) and "citizenship" (English citizenship ).

In Germany , the most populous state in the German-speaking area, the designation German citizenship is common because it was founded in 1871 as a unified German nation-state ( Deutsches Reich ), whose citizens ( when the Federal Republic of Germany was founded in 1949 also called "Federal Citizens") are predominantly of German nationality (origin ) are.

However, in the German Empire initially only the nationalities of the respective member states were valid , e.g. B. that of Prussia or Bavaria . Provisions under Reich law (such as the Reich and Citizenship Act of July 22, 1913) later ensured that the regulation of citizenship in all member states was based on the same principles. Article 3 of Bismarck's Imperial Constitution of 1871 already subjected every citizen or subject of all German federal states to the common indigenous community of the German Empire, which can thus be regarded as the forerunner of uniform German citizenship.

A unified German nationality was only after the Neuaufbaugesetz of 30 January 1934 a constitutional amendment of the Weimar Constitution in the wake of the Nazi regime operated DC circuit , introduced as a result the sovereignty of the countries of the German Empire was abolished.

Even during the division of Germany, the Federal Republic of Germany only had one German citizenship - which means that GDR citizens were politically and legally included in addition to their own citizenship (1967–1990) ( Art. 16 and Art. 116 (1) GG ) - which has been defined in the Reich and Citizenship Act (RuStAG; renamed StAG in 2000) since 1913 . With the fall of the GDR and the reunification of Germany, there is only one German citizenship again.

In Austria the official designation is Austrian citizenship , citizen of the state of Austria.

In Switzerland , whose native population consists of German, French, Italian, Romansh and multilingual individuals, Swiss citizenship means that the person in question is a citizen of the Swiss Confederation, as the state is officially called.

In monarchies, for example Liechtenstein , citizens are also referred to as subjects (of the monarch) and citizenship analogously as subjects (shank) .

Acquiring citizenship

In legal terms, a distinction is usually made between “acquisition by law” (birth, declaration, occurrence of conditions, etc.) and “acquisition by administrative act”, naturalization. Regardless of this, the acquisition is materially based on traditional state practice. Citizenship in many nation states (such as Poland , Japan , etc.) is usually linked to ethnicity , but this is seldom the sole standard in the meantime.

Acquisition by parentage

The child acquires the citizenship of the parents at birth ( real act ), regardless of the country in which it was born. Often every parent conveys this relationship equally strongly. In some jurisdictions, parentage doubts are resolved by the child acquiring the mother’s citizenship. In other countries, the father as head of the family mediates citizenship in the case of married parents.

Acquisition by place of birth

Where this principle applies, everyone born in the national territory receives citizenship. In addition to the principle of descent, this principle is not only applied by so-called immigration countries. Such countries see it as an integral instrument of their policy of increasing the number of their citizens, but conversely, the application of the ius soli does not lead to the reliable conclusion that it is a country of immigration, especially since it is practiced by the majority alongside other gainful conditions.

The legal structure knows numerous gradations and combinations with further features such as legal residence of the parents, permanent residence or generational principle, ethnic affiliation , ex-colonial reference.


  • In France , citizenship ( French: nationalité ) has been acquired on the basis of the ius sanguinis since the introduction of the Civil Code in 1803 . Since 1889 the ius soli has also been practiced according to the so-called “double ius soli” (double droit du sol) , according to which one parent must already be born in the country. The acquisition situation applies to the third generation.
  • Germany used the place of birth principle until the beginning of the 19th century. Since the introduction of the first nationality laws (Prussia: 1842), the principle of descent has been introduced as the prevailing acquisition factor. Since the Reich and Citizenship Act of 1913, a pure ius sanguinis applied in the German Reich . With the citizenship reform of 2000 , the so-called “option model” was introduced as a supplementary ius soli for the second generation of immigrants.

Acquisition through naturalization (naturalization)

Naturalization certificate from 1902

Naturalization is acquisition of citizenship through an executive act. This procedure combines the voluntary factor on the part of the citizen, i.e. the desire to be a citizen (confirmation element), and on the part of the state the possibility of selecting other citizens according to self-defined characteristics (control element). How intensively this instrument is used by a country (possibly in the context of a targeted population policy to recruit many new or targeted residents and citizens) can possibly be part of its self-definition as a country of immigration . However, no evidence has been provided for the causal steering effect of a certain naturalization or citizenship legislation.

In addition, many legal systems make generous use of naturalization as an instrument to dispense with complex and detailed legal automatisms based on the ius soli and ius sanguinis principles and to maintain a certain flexibility. This is a common practice among countries with ethnic fragmentation to accommodate geographically and / or historically wide-ranging connections. The same applies to secessions and mergers of countries or parts of countries.

In the self-image of many state systems, the principle of democracy and the tax burden are of course linked, so that the state may only fairly participate in the financing of the community, who also have access to citizenship. The example of naturalization in Switzerland also shows conflicts between democracy and the rule of law .

Acquisition by declaration

A person can acquire citizenship by declaration to the authorities of a country, provided that national law so provides. This is usually linked to a few requirements and characteristics and is a minimalist form of naturalization.

Loss of citizenship

Loss of citizenship, like acquisition, can take place through statutory automatism (de lege) or by administrative act , in liberal state systems also through unilateral action by the citizen. There are also states that do not allow the loss of their citizenship at all or only in very limited exceptional cases.

According to the law, in many states the loss occurs when a citizen voluntarily acquires another citizenship or joins foreign armed forces . Even if a child is adopted by a foreigner and loses its family ties in the home country, according to the legal systems of many countries its original citizenship is lost. Until some time ago it was common for a woman who married a foreign man to automatically lose her citizenship (and usually also automatically assume that of her husband). After global efforts to achieve equality between men and women, this is only the case in a few countries today.

In some states, a citizen can renounce their citizenship or declare their abandonment. In most cases, this is only permitted in certain situations, and strict conditions apply, in particular to avoid statelessness . Often such a waiver is also tied to other prerequisites or advance payments: completion of military service , reimbursement of training costs, payment of tax debts.

The release or release from citizenship or the approval of the waiver are usually designed as administrative acts to ensure administrative control and to be able to effectively control the existence of the requirements. Totalitarian regimes also use expatriation (forced deprivation of citizenship) as a means of pressure to deprive politically unpleasant citizens or to get rid of them.

Special cases arise in the case of changes of territory after armed conflicts or in the case of the collapse or dissolution of a state (e.g. a multi-ethnic state ). Usually the citizenship of a successor state is automatically assumed here, or certain criteria such as ethnicity, place of residence, service in an army, etc. are tied to. Sometimes corresponding regulations are already established in advance. The fact that former citizens become stateless when a state ceases to exist is the exception.

See also: Loss of German , Austrian or Swiss citizenship


Stateless people are those who are not citizens of any state. Statelessness should be avoided according to international law, since stateless persons are without reference or protection. Therefore every state is obliged under international law not to expel stateless persons in its territory to another state, but rather to grant them protection.

International statelessness regulations are:

Unresolved citizenship

Not to be confused with statelessness is the status of unresolved citizenship. In the Federal Republic of Germany, this is obtained because the origin of the person concerned is unknown (due to the low age of the person concerned) and therefore their citizenship cannot be conclusively clarified. The legal situation in many European countries does not allow a person with unclear citizenship to be naturalized, since it is assumed that citizenship already exists.

Multiple citizenship

Multiple citizenship (also called multiple or multiple citizenship) refers to the case that a person has more than one citizenship. Dual citizens , also “dual citizens” (especially Germany), “dual citizens” (especially Switzerland) or “dual citizens” (especially Austria) are common names for this when there are two simultaneous citizenships.

Mehrstaatigkeit can arise either originally by the simultaneous and automatic acquisition of two or more nationalities at birth or derivatively awarded by purchasing an additional citizenship on application (so-called naturalization or naturalization ). Multiple citizenship at birth arises either through the interaction of the citizenship regimes of several states with different employment circumstances - cf. also the principle of descent ( Latin ius sanguinis ) (e.g. Germany, Switzerland) and birthplace principle (Latin ius soli ) (e.g. France, USA) - or in the case of children of bi- or multinational parents who have all their nationalities on an equal footing inherit the child (see also the international context of the legal situation in Germany ). In certain cases, a child can automatically become dual nationals through adoption only after birth , provided that the original citizenship is not lost through adoption (for example in the case of the adoption of a foreign stepchild).

In Australia , according to Chapter 44 of the 1900 Constitution, parliamentarians are not allowed to have a second citizenship besides Australian, which led to several resignations in 2017, but also to criticism of the legal provision.

Multiple citizenship can also result from being granted honorary citizenship.

Having several nationalities means more opportunities for residence, study grants, employment and participation in the countries concerned, but it can also have disadvantages, for example with regard to conscription and taxation or when entering third countries. Dual nationals who are also citizens of Iran, Iraq, Syria or Sudan are excluded from the USA's visa waiver program .

The legal regulations for multiple citizenship differ internationally:


In the political discussion there is mostly talk of dual citizenship , dual citizenship or a double passport . People who have acquired two citizenships are referred to as dual citizens , dual citizens ( colloquially ), dual citizens or, especially in Switzerland , dual citizens .

Germany allows dual citizenship within the EU (since 1999) and Switzerland, for all other countries special requirements must be met and, in some cases, a permit must be obtained.

On January 1, 2000, the domestic clause was no longer applicable, according to which a German who acquired another citizenship through foreign naturalization would not lose his German citizenship if he was domiciled in Germany. In 2000, the previous Citizenship Act of 1913 was supplemented by the birthplace principle at the initiative of the red-green federal government : If one parent has lived in Germany for at least eight years and has an unlimited right of residence, the child acquires German citizenship at birth. Naturalization is now also possible after eight instead of the previous 15 years. Originally, the law stipulated that children had to choose citizenship by the age of 23 at the latest. This regulation was canceled in 2014 so that both nationalities can now be retained. In the course of the Erdogan rallies in summer 2016 , the media reported several times about the regulations for Germans of Turkish origin.


The legal situation for multiple citizenships in Austria is a. a. regulated in the Citizenship Act 1985 (StbG) (§§ 10 Paragraph 6, 28). In principle, the Republic of Austria does not allow multiple citizenships, but there are special cases.

Anyone who voluntarily acquires foreign citizenship will in principle lose their Austrian citizenship. In order not to lose Austrian citizenship, the authorization to retain it must be applied for in writing before acquiring the foreign citizenship and approved in writing at the respective office of the regional government .

Austrian citizenship may be retained if one of the following situations arises:

  • the retention is in the interests of the Republic of Austria;
  • the applicant has a “particularly worthy of consideration” reason in private and family life and acquired Austrian citizenship at birth;
  • retention corresponds to the best interests of the child (for minors ).

If the Austrian citizenship is applied for, the applicant has to give up his previous citizenship within two years. After that, however, the person could illegally apply for his “old” citizenship again in his home country. Austrian citizenship then ceases to be legally effective, but de facto only if the Republic of Austria learns about it.


The Switzerland allowed since 1 January 1992, the multiple nationality under Swiss law without restrictions. The term dual citizen is mostly used in Switzerland. Swiss abroad who have acquired another citizenship must notify the Swiss representation at which they are registered.

For the other nationality, the rules of the other country concerned apply. Foreign nationals can lose their original citizenship if the law of their country of origin so provides. With regard to dual citizenship Switzerland-Germany, the following applies: The loss of German citizenship does not occur if a German acquires the citizenship of another member state of the European Union, Switzerland or a country with which the Federal Republic of Germany has signed an international agreement in accordance with Section 12 (3) has completed.

This decision is not without controversy: the Swiss abroad can participate in elections on political issues that do not affect them at all, which can be problematic in terms of “democratic theory”. In the case of dual citizens in Switzerland, conflicts of loyalty can arise if the two nations position themselves differently on political issues.


When acquiring Liechtenstein citizenship , all applicants are required to renounce their previous citizenship. In contrast, Liechtenstein citizens may acquire other citizenships without restrictions.


In Denmark , an amendment to the lov om dansk indfødsret came into force on September 1, 2015 , which enables multiple citizenship.

Retention of citizenship when acquiring another

Anyone living abroad permanently can in principle take on local citizenship there (e.g. Australian citizenship). Whether or not the previous citizenship will then be lost depends on the legal framework.

German-speaking countries

  • Germany : Retaining German citizenship is only possible if the German has received a retention permit prior to naturalization . This requires an application to the competent authority. This does not apply to Germans who adopt the citizenship of another EU member state or Switzerland , provided that this took place after August 28, 2007. If a foreigner who has submitted an application for naturalization in Germany does not automatically lose his previous citizenship due to the legal situation in his country of origin, the naturalization authority initially only issues an assurance of naturalization. The foreigner then has to arrange for his previous citizenship to be released. Multiple citizenship is only permitted if the foreigner cannot give up his / her previous citizenship or only under particularly difficult conditions. EU foreigners are to be naturalized with the acceptance of multiple citizenship, provided the other requirements for naturalization are met.
  • Austria : Austrians generally lose their Austrian citizenship when they take on another citizenship. However, a retention permit can also be granted here if this is in the interest of the Republic of Austria or if there are “reasons worthy of consideration” in your private and family life.
  • Switzerland : The citizenship of Switzerland is not affected by assuming another nationality.
  • Luxembourg : Luxembourg has allowed multiple citizenship since 2008. The acquisition of another nationality while retaining the existing one is also allowed.
  • Belgium : Since April 28, 2008, Belgium has allowed other citizenships to be acquired without losing the Belgian one.
  • Liechtenstein : Liechtenstein allows its citizens to acquire additional citizenships. If you want to be naturalized in Liechtenstein, you have to renounce your previous citizenship.

Other EU countries

  • Finland : Finnish citizenship has not been revoked since June 1, 2003 when acquiring another nationality. It is also possible to acquire Finnish citizenship while retaining the existing one. Finnish citizens who have another nationality, who were born abroad and who did not live in a Nordic country for at least seven years up to the age of 22, or who are otherwise connected to Finland, can lose their Finnish nationality on their 22nd birthday.
  • Sweden : Swedish citizenship has not been withdrawn when acquiring another citizenship since 2001. It is also possible to acquire Swedish citizenship while retaining the existing one. Swedish citizens who have another nationality, were born abroad and have never lived in Sweden or have any other attachment to the country will lose their Swedish nationality. This also includes their children, unless they are entitled to Swedish citizenship through the other parent.
  • Denmark : Danish citizenship has not been revoked when acquiring another citizenship since 2015. It is also possible to acquire Danish citizenship while retaining the existing citizenship.

Special case of the Palestinians

A special case are Palestinians registered by Israel (with ID) who take on another citizenship. As a rule, you have a Palestinian passport , but are considered stateless - therefore you do not need to lose your Palestinian citizenship beforehand. Now that Israel continues to treat such people as Palestinians, they can still only enter the country with a Palestinian passport. They are therefore forced to use two passports if they want to travel to their old homeland.

Developments after the Brexit vote

After the Brexit vote on June 23, 2016, numerous British people applied for an Irish passport. Brits living in other EU countries and EU citizens living in Great Britain also showed interest in dual citizenship.

Effective citizenship

In international private law (IPR), the citizenship of the persons involved in legal transactions is the decisive point of reference for the applicable law for many legal questions . For people who have more than one citizenship, the principle of effective citizenship applies .

In Germany, effective citizenship according to Art. 5, Paragraph 1, Sentence 1 of the EGBGB is basically the citizenship of the state with which there is the closest connection. This is indicated by the place of residence, birth and previous lifestyle of a person. However, if a person also has German citizenship in addition to one or more foreign citizenships, the person will be treated as if he were only German in accordance with Art. 5 Paragraph 1 Sentence 2 EGBGB. From the point of view of German IPR, German citizenship therefore takes precedence over all others, including effective citizenship.

Union Citizenship (EU)

Since the dissolution of the Council of Europe's convention of 6 May 1963 on the reduction of multiple nationality and on the conscription of multiple nationalities , multiple nationality has lost importance as a legal problem. This went hand in hand with the development of European citizenship.

Similar to citizenship, the European Union develops Union citizenship for the citizens of the member states as a component of the unification and integration process. This is currently not a citizenship in the sense of international law . This is mainly due to the fact that the EU is an association of states that is directed towards internal political, legal and economic harmonization.

Union citizenship is regulated in Art. 20  ff. TFEU and supplements national citizenship with a dimension under European law. It affects mostly

  • within the Union, freedom of movement, freedom of establishment, the right to vote under European law;
  • international integrated diplomatic and consular protection by all EU member states.

International law requirements

Although the individual states are responsible for granting citizenship, there are provisions of international law . These result from the legal sources of international law, which are named in Art. 38 ICJ Statute . For example B. Art. 3 European Convention on Citizenship : “Each state determines, according to its own law, who its citizens are. This right is to be recognized by the other states insofar as it is in accordance with applicable international conventions, customary international law and generally recognized legal principles with regard to nationality. ”The exact scope of these international law requirements is controversial.

After the Second World War, guidelines based on human rights guaranteed under international law became important . So z. B. Art. 20 para. 1 American Convention on Human Rights the right of every person to a nationality. Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights also cites this right.

Honorary Citizenship

Honorary citizenship is citizenship that is awarded as an award for special achievement. The award of an honorary citizenship, similar to that of an honorary doctorate, does not take place on the basis of fulfilling the criteria that are normally necessary for its acquisition. Instead, it is regarded as an award of a person for achievements or a life's work that is closely related to the state awarding the award.

Some states, such as Canada , grant honorary citizenships , which are purely symbolic awards and are not linked to any privileges or civic duties.

Citizenship of individual countries


  • Fritz von Keller / Paul Trautmann: Commentary on the Reich and Citizenship Act of July 22, 1913. Beck, Munich 1914, 848 pages.
  • Kay Hailbronner , Günter Renner, Maaßen: Citizenship Law (= Beck's short comments; vol. 55). 5th, revised edition, CH Beck, Munich 2010, ISBN 978-3-406-59548-6 .
  • Ingo von Münch : The German citizenship. Past - present - future . De Gruyter Recht, Berlin 2007, 410 (XLI) S., ISBN 978-3-89949-433-4 , ISBN 3-89949-433-4 .
  • Walter Fr. Schleser : The German citizenship. A guide. With 2 contributions by Alfred Heinzel. 4th, revised. u. additional edition, Verlag für Standesamtwesen, Frankfurt am Main 1980, ISBN 3-8019-5603-2 . (In Appendix 5 "The Foreign Citizenship Law", pp. 359–368: an overview of applicable nationality laws of the foreign country and certain questions of foreign citizenship law )
  • Helgo Eberwein, Eva Pfleger: Aliens law for studies and practice. Basic Right, Aliens Police Act, Settlement and Residence Act, Citizenship Act; including amendment to immigration law 2011. LexisNexis, Vienna 2011, ISBN 978-3-7007-5010-9 .
  • Herbert Mussger: Austrian citizenship law (= Juridica short comments). 6th, revised edition. Juridica, Vienna 2001, ISBN 3-85131-155-8 .
  • Susanne Benöhr: Statelessness - Homelessness. A legal digression . In: Barbara Johr: Journeys in Life. Living on after a childhood in Auschwitz , Bremen 1997, pp. 173–178 ( online ).
  • Martina Sochin D'Elia: Liechtenstein citizenship in the past and present. Working papers Liechtenstein Institute No. 45 , Bendern 2014.
  • Sabine Strasser: Moving affiliations. National tensions, transnational practices and transversal politics. Turia + Kant, Vienna 2009, ISBN 978-3-85132-539-3 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Citizenship  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. a b Cf. Ingo von Münch : The German citizenship. Past - Present - Future , de Gruyter, Berlin 2007, ISBN 978-3-89949-433-4 , p. 4 .
  2. See civis romanus sum .
  3. ^ French constitution of 1791
  4. RGBl. I p. 75
  5. For the acquisition, a corresponding declaration was sufficient in order to receive Federal German papers. For more information, see Ingo von Münch, Die deutsche Staatsangerschaftigkeit , de Gruyter, Berlin 2007, pp. 101 ff. ( Limited online version in the Google book search).
  6. Ingo von Münch, The German Citizenship , de Gruyter, Berlin 2007, p. 109 ( restricted online version in the Google book search).
  7. a b Patrick Weil: Access to citizenship. A comparison of 25 nationality laws. In: Citizenship in Europe. Historical experiences and current debates. Edited by Christoph Conrad and Jürgen Kocka, Hamburg 2001, ISBN 3-89684-018-5 , p. 92 ff.
  8. Ending Statelessness , UNHCR , accessed June 3, 2018.
  9. Stumbling about dual citizenship , , August 15, 2017, accessed on August 16, 2017.
  10. United States: Travel and Safety Advice. Federal Foreign Office, March 14, 2017, accessed on March 14, 2017 .
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  40. Swedish Nationality Act (Swedish)
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