Dutch citizenship, Nederlanderschap, is becoming an exclusive, restrictive Dutch affair. The present Dutch coalition government of Liberals and Christian-Democrats rules by grace of Wilders’ Party for Freedom, a political party that rallies on a True Dutch First platform, built on anti-Islam, anti-immigrant and anti-European Union sentiments.
Of course, there is a price to pay for this support. The government’s initiative to insulate Dutch nationality and citizenship from other nationalities fits into the True Dutch frame. Recently, the Minister for the Interior, Jan Hein Donner, presented a revision of the Nationality Act 2003 to Parliament, which aims to block dual nationality of Dutch citizens. This revision targets Dutch nationals in foreign lands who opt for a dual nationality, and, more significantly, immigrants in the Netherlands who aspire to Dutch nationality. Dutch expats, and immigrants alike generally prefer to keep their original nationality, and so seek dual nationality.
Over 1 million Dutch nationals already have dual nationality, which cannot be touched. Yet, according to this amendment these dual citizens don’t toe the True Dutch line. They have obtained a dual nationality on grounds that will be annulled for aspiring future candidates. The exceptions to holding a customary single Dutch nationality that currently exist will be abrogated. For instance, a foreign spouse of a Dutchman, or of a Dutch woman, who wants to become a Dutch national, must now surrender her (his) original nationality. In case of divorce, which is not an exceptional phenomenon, the incoming spouse has then no other nationality than the nationality of the ex-spouse. Susanne Mooij, an expert on immigration and nationality law, called the bill “[...] an erosion of the Netherlands Nationality Act of 2003.” However, in contrast to expert opinion, 60 percent of the Dutch population of 18 years and older are against dual nationality. Especially the less educated, and people over 45 years of age, are not in favour of multiple nationalities (Central Bureau of Statistics, 2011). When asked “Ministers should not have dual nationality,” the reaction is even more pronounced: 70 percent feel that this should not be allowed, compared to 18 percent who don’t mind. In 2012 the Netherlands counted over 1.1 million inhabitants who have alongside their Dutch nationality at least one other nationality.
The Netherlands Club of New York, a Dutch expat club for diverse occasions (including Dutch politics, book presentations, cultural events) called a meeting on the issue of dual nationality in October 2011, which was attended by around 100 people. A panel explained the substance of the pending amendment of the Netherlands Nationality Act. For Dutch expats the revision entails that Dutch nationality is automatically lost when one voluntarily acquires another nationality, regardless of the nationality laws of the providing country. In the United States for example, US nationality laws might allow a Dutch national to retain his Dutch nationality when obtaining American nationality. The revision of the Netherlands law will basically trigger an automatic loss of his Nederlanderschap. Voluntary acquisition of another nationality will always carry the automatic loss of Dutch citizenship.
Compared to other countries, the Netherlands is swimming against the tide. Norway, Luxembourg, Belgium, Finland, Iceland and Sweden have recently abolished the ruling that obtaining a foreign nationality is reason for losing one’s original nationality. This ruling has recently also been abolished by countries outside Europe, in Cuba, the Philippines, Australia and Venezuela.
The assembly in The Netherlands Club focused on the grounds for losing Dutch citizenship. The majority of those present had Dutch nationality and worried about the loss of Dutch citizenship, by marriage for instance, or by obtaining American nationality, or perhaps just by staying abroad for many years. The expat objections ranged from a devaluation of Dutch citizenship abroad; a substantial estate tax loss; to undervaluation of the ambassadorial function that expats have to sustain Dutch interests abroad (Vriesekoop, 2011, 35).
During the second half of the meeting in The Netherlands Club, the debate took quite a different turn. The question “why is this happening?” was succinctly addressed when the meeting was midway graced by three members of the Dutch Parliament, Tofik Dibi (Green), Khadya Arib (Labour) and Fatima Koser Katya (Liberal-Democrat), all new Dutch nationals, thus of foreign origin. They happened to be on a New York mission with an altogether different agenda. Their presence brought to the forefront that the amendment was targeted principally at the loyalty of Dutch immigrants who aspired to become Dutch, in other words, the Dutch allochtons. They must choose an exclusive Dutch identity when obtaining Dutch citizenship, and distance themselves from the nationality of their home country. The expats in The Netherlands Club of New York were collateral damage as the amendment primarily seeks to whitewash immigrants in the Netherlands who are supposedly tainted by their foreignness.
Immigrants who aim for Dutch citizenship must according to this revision renounce the nationality of their home country, and possibly other nationalities. This is not the case when this nationality cannot be renounced on the strength of the nationality laws of those countries. For instance, a Moroccan citizen will always be a Moroccan citizen; he cannot renounce his citizenship, nor can Argentinian nationals.
For individuals who wish to become Dutch, the proposed amendment prescribes that the original nationality must be cancelled upon acquisition of Dutch citizenship. The amendment seeks to purify Dutch nationality. The formal link with the country of origin must be severed. Implicitly it is assumed that the acquired language and imbibed cultural assumptions must be forgotten. In other words, Dutch nationality imposes "a 'painful' loss of earlier attachments” […] The idea seems to be, indeed, that Dutch identity must “cannibalize” other identities in order to turn immigrants into reliable citizens (Geschiere, 2009, 106).” Reassuring his Dutch constituency about foreign intrusions, the Dutch Prime Minister stated on the eve of elections in 2011: “We will take care that our Dutch Wonderland will be returned to the Dutch. That is our project.”
One must opt for an exclusive Dutch nationality, guarded by Dutch wardens. If not, then there is a loyalty problem, or this was the implication when it was raised in Parliament during a debate on dual nationality of incoming ministers. All that is not Dutch is censured to be strange, weird, and indeed, threatening. The list includes the Kafkaesque proposal to send back Scottish breeds of beef cattle that supposedly do not fit into the True Dutch natural landscape; recent pressures on FunX, a popular Radio station that is threatened to lose subsidies if it doesn’t air more True Dutch folkloric tunes; and of course the daily experience of Muslim women in the Netherlands. Wilders proposed that Muslim women who wear a headscarf should pay an annual “head rag tax” (kopvoddenbelasting) of 1000 euros, forcing them to do away with such creepiness. It did not come to this this time around and yet the formative idea of a 'head rag tax' returns, now in an adaption of Netherlands nationality legislation, requiring that an immigrant renounce his past, and so declare himself to be cleansed sufficiently to merit (van vreemde smetten vrij) an exclusive Dutch citizenship.
In the wider European Union the Netherlands moves against the grain by nailing (new) Dutch citizens on an exclusive Dutch nationality. The Maastricht Treaty of 1983 created a European citizenship. Dutch nationals have besides Dutch nationality now also 'citizenship of the Union.' This European citizenship does not replace Dutch nationality, but is an addition to national citizenship. The provision of European citizenship is an extension of a national citizenship format, and thus an adaptation to the growing transnational interdependence of public administration, economic markets, international finance, and the movement of people between the countries of the European Union and beyond. The dual nationality of more than 1 million Dutch people is a reflection of their increased mobility.
European citizenship is still limited in scope: “it includes, among other things, the right to move freely within the territory of the member states, and to settle there, and the right to vote and to stand in municipal elections in the state of residence - regardless of the nationality of the state - and for the European Parliament (Hirsch Ballin, 2011, 22).”
The exercise of European citizenship is in its infancy; citizens’ involvement in European Union affairs leaving much to be desired. For many a Dutch citizen, citizenship stops at the national border. Elections for the European Parliament in 2009 showed a scanty Dutch voter turnout of 37 %, against a EU total of 43 %, the lowest in the European Union's election history. Dutch voter turnout for The Netherlands Parliament is twice the turnout for the European Union (Jong. 2011, 198). While the 'sovereign' Dutch nation-state increasingly yields power to 'Brussels', the collective imagination of national borders remains highly significant for the scope of Dutch citizenship. The limited burgher-scope of Dutch citizens is not in tune with the changing balance of power between the European nation-states and the European Union; their burgher-scope does not reflect that they imagine themselves as European citizens. Yet, they are!
Eventually, citizenship must become attuned to the evolving public jurisdictions between the European Union states and the European Union. Since the ‘50s of the last century, the European Union has dramatically changed the transnational public sphere of its member states (Fraser, 2005). These changes are rooted in a 30-year history of European war (1915-1945), which eventually set in motion the process of a progressive European integration. This Gründung of the European Union seems to have disappeared from collective memory, while it deserves to be permanently spotlighted, especially at times when the Union and the Euro stumble: “Remember!”
Migration has become a flexible phenomenon; it is no longer typical that migrants settle elsewhere for life, such as the 400,000 Dutch who migrated in the period 1950-1964 to the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Nevertheless, approximately one third of them returned to the Netherlands after a shorter or longer time (Lucassen & Lucassen, 2011, 110). Nowadays people alternate domicile or country, depending upon the chances of (continuing) education and training; career and employment; domestic partnership and retirement. Nowadays, a fixed residence and job-for-life are for many an anachronism. People have become flexible, which entails that consecutive links with different communities, nations and states are construed, each with its own personal meaning. This mobility can usually not be planned; study abroad may be followed with an overseas career, or marriage/partnership with a foreigner; or a return to the Netherlands, depending on one’s preferences, options, opportunities, and aspirations “to make it here.” A prolonged stay abroad can be concluded with the wish to return to the “familiar” country of origin to settle in the retirement sunset. This applies to both Dutch nationals abroad as well as to Dutch nationals in the Netherlands with another country of origin.
Obviously, not all Dutchmen are chronically deranged migrants, yet a growing number now regularly cross borders. Not everyone is on the move or cosmopolitan, nor do they have to be, but those who wish to be a part of the age of the cocktail (Tamimi Arab, 2011) should not be frustrated by a one dimensional Dutch nationality: “multiple nationality is the legal reflection of a social reality where people may be involved in a number of societies and their legalities. This will in 21st century increasingly affect the conceptualization of citizenship and the exercise of citizens’ rights (Hirsch Ballin, 2011, 21).”
Dutch citizenship should not become a polder certificate that is disfigured by dual nationality; on the contrary, dual nationality does justice to an open-minded Dutch citizenship. Dutch expats and Dutch nationals of foreign origin must join forces against pressures to restrict Netherlands citizenship to a Dutch Ltd. horizon: Nederlanders of all countries, Unite!
Hirsch Ballin, E.M.H. (2011) Civil Rights. Speech given when accepting the post of Professor of Human Rights at the University of Amsterdam. 9 September 2011.
Fraser, Nancy (2005) Transnationalizing the Public Sphere.
Geschiere, Peter (2009) The Perils of Belonging. Autochthony, Citizenship, and Exclusion in Africa and Europe. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.
Jong, Lammert de (2010) Being Dutch, More or Less. In a Comparative Perspective or USA and Caribbean Practices. Amsterdam: Rozenberg Publishers.
Lucassen, Leo and Jan Lucassen (2011) Winners and Losers. A sober balance of five hundred years of immigration. Amsterdam: Bert Bakker.
Tamimi Arab, Pooyan (2011) “If you are Dutch and Iranian. The age of the Cocktail.” Eutopia Institute: http://www.eutopiainstitute.org/2011/02/als-je-nederlands-en-iraans-bent/
Vriesekoop, Betinne (2011) A Thousand Days in China. Amsterdam: Neigh & Van Ditmar.
Welie, Rik van (2008) “Slave Trading and Slavery in the Dutch Colonial Empire: A Global Comparison.” In: New West Indian Guide, Vol. 82. no. 1&2, pp. 47-96, 2008.