North of Copenhagen Harbour is the wreck of a naval vessel that was built in 1776. Its name is Indfødsretten, which means citizenship. It was launched in the same year that the first law on citizenship was passed. It was sunk by Admiral Nelson in 1801.
According to this law, working as a civil servant in the kingdom was the exclusive right of people born here (or in Norway, Schleswig-Holstein and the West Indies, but not the slaves). The aim was to keep foreigners out and give Danish citizens an advantage, but there were exceptions for those who were rich enough or important enough.
Up until now, Danish adults have not been entitled to apply for dual citizenship, but it is about to change. A parliamentary majority will legalise dual citizenship from next summer. Twenty of the EU member states already permit dual citizenship, so it is about time Denmark did the same and took a most welcome stride forward – for globalisation and international life.
Over the years, national military service had been an issue. Denmark still has a constitutionally-embedded national service for all its male citizens. It would have been difficult to know which country somebody with dual citizenship should do their national service for – and what would happen if the two countries were fighting each other.
However, national service is about to come to an end in most western countries, so it’s not such a big problem anymore. In Denmark nobody ever gets drafted against their wish – there are enough volunteers to ensure that doesn’t happen.
National service was one of just several complications faced by Danes abroad. Others included losing the right to vote after just two years, facing difficulties bringing family members of non-Danish origin into the country and, of course, losing their Danishness should they apply for citizenship of another country.
At the upcoming World Cup we will be reminded how a number of sportsmen are not born where their passport is issued. on the US team, for example, more than half the players were born outside the US. Special rule books have existed in the area of dual citizenship for decades – when it has suited the authorities.
With citizenship comes a number of rights and obligations – mostly the right to live and work in the nation – but none of them are as important as how a person feels, deep down to their very bones. Ultimately, it is this sentimental attachment to the ‘old country’ that has prevented many Danes changing their citizenship – and made it that much tougher for those who have.
There are still minorities around the world who have mixed loyalties to different nations – and that will still create frustration and conflicts. Dual citizenship will however solve many of the unnecessary restrictions imposed on people’s lives.
So welcome to Denmark, dual citizenship – you have long been overdue.(ES)