Monday

18th Mar 2019

New double citizenship law does not change voting rights

  • The double citizenship issue is an old Fidesz promise (Photo: EUobserver)

Hungary's new law on double citizenship has prompted high expectations and sharp controversy – but mostly for the wrong reasons. The amendment passed by the Hungarian parliament this week, only alters the citizenship law while legislation governing the electoral system and social entitlements remained untouched. It will not give ethnic Hungarians living abroad the right to vote in elections in Hungary or to send their own deputies to Budapest.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's conservative Fidesz party, which has a two-thirds majority in parliament, was joined by the far-right Jobbik MPs, for adoption of the amendment, which allows people without Hungarian residency to apply for citizenship.

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The double citizenship issue is an old Fidesz promise. In their first stretch of government (1998-2002), they did not dare go all the way. At the turn of the century, EU membership for neighbouring Romania still seemed a long way off, while Hungary was already close to accession. In order not to risk a massive influx of ethnic Hungarians from Romania, the Orbán government restricted itself to a transitional "status law". It introduced a so-called "Hungarian pass" which fell short of double citizenship.

These days, with both countries EU members, the fear of mass immigration from Romania has all but evaporated and was no longer stopping Fidesz from delivering on their long-standing promise to its electorate.

The amendment was passed regardless of warnings by Hungarian minority politicians in the neighbouring states, particularly Slovakia, where a new parliament is scheduled to be elected on 12 June. According to analysts, the Hungarian move is likely to boost the election prospects of prime minister Robert Fico. The Slovakian mass media are too busy with the double citizenship issue to focus on Mr Fico overstretching the country's financial resources in the EU's aid package for Greece, analysts say.

Exactly how the new citizenship law is going to be implemented in practice has yet to be determined by secondary law. But in principle individuals who have no permanent address in Hungary are eligible for citizenship if they fulfill some criteria to prove their Hungarian origins. The law is set to enter into force on 1 January, 2011.

Applications and all decisions about double citizenship will be done on a case-by-case basis. Collective granting of citizenship would violate international agreements, Hungarian legal experts say.

The right to vote in Hungarian elections, both at local and national level, will continue to be conditional on a citizen living in the country on a permanent basis, having a regular Hungarian address and being able to prove that they have employment or another legitimate place in the social security system.

Slovakia responded promptly with new legislation stripping Slovakian citizenship from those who apply for a second citizenship in another country. However, it is not clear if the new law is in line with the Slovak constitution.

The European Commission has declined to comment on the issue. Member states are free to regulate citizenship issues as they see fit, commission officials have stressed.

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