Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun...

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

French Feminism: Seduction and The Cultural Exception

There is a fascinating exchange going on right between the American historian Joan Scott and some (not all) French feminists.

In the June 9th on-line edition of the French paper, Liberation, Joan Scott very thoughtfully writes, not about the DSK affair itself, but the reactions to the affair and the internal debate going on in France right now about what it means.    She questions the assertion that there is a «féminisme à la française» - that, for cultural reasons, feminism in France is not, can never be, and no one wants it to be, like feminism in other countries.   She quotes Irène Théry who defends the uniqueness of the French approach to sexual equality by saying:
«Il (ce féminisme) est fait d’une certaine façon de vivre et pas seulement de penser, qui refuse les impasses du politiquement correct, veut les droits égaux des sexes et les plaisirs asymétriques de la séduction, le respect absolu du consentement et la surprise délicieuse des baisers volés.»
(This (French) feminism is made of a certain way of life and not simply a way of thinking, which refuses politically correct dead-ends, wants legal equality between the sexes and the asymmetrical pleasures of seduction, has total respect for consent and the delicious surprise of stolen kisses.)
Scott attacks this on several grounds.  She certainly does not believe, for example, that the French "Game of Seduction" is based on any kind of equality between the sexes.  You can read Scott's entire article here.  There is a reply by Claude Habib, Mona Ozouf, Philippe Raynaud and Irene Thery Ehess here.

After reading the entire debate, I personally have the following objections to the arguments proposed by the defenders of the French Feminist Exception:

Forsakes Any Claim to Universalism - if French feminism really is particular to France then it could follow that French feminists have little or no relevance in matters pertaining to sexual equality at the international level and have absolutely nothing to offer the rest of the world in this matter.  If feminist ideas born here can only be understood and applied in a French context then you might as well stamp the work of many brilliant French feminists "Not for Export" which I think is absurd.  

Dons the Dangerous Cloak of Cultural Exception - I have found that people really don't understand how cultural exceptions are a double-edged sword.  Once you claim it for yourself and your culture, you can't really complain when someone from another culture uses it as a reason for a cultural practice in their part of the world.  I once stopped an argument cold over the death penalty in the U.S. by simply saying that it was part of American culture (part of our history, mentality and so forth).  If you can have your cultural exceptions, I said, so can we which means that this debate is now over.  Match nul.

Treats Culture as a Fossil - And not as a river that flows and ebbs and changes course over time.  100 years ago French people (and all other people on this planet) had ideas and rules and laws and morals that are vastly different from what we see today.  It is a fact that things changed - sometimes in very radical ways but more often slowly over generations.  As I sit here typing this I am almost certain that 100 years from now what French and American culture becomes will be quite foreign to us and that our descendants will find many of our ways to be, at best, rather quaint.  To say that something is a "part of our culture" is misleading.  More correctly we should say that such things are a "part of our culture today" and may or may not be there tomorrow.  "Culture" and "Eternal' together is an oxymoron.

I do not pretend to know which way the winds will blow French feminism or French culture for that matter.  For the time being, I am very happy to sit back and watch the debate unfold.  Hold onto your hats, this is going to be interesting.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Ambivalence

Very recently I have come into contact with a number of people visiting Paris.  This is unusual for me because I've always lived a bit off the beaten path (Parisian suburbs and close cities like Versailles) and I've pretty much lived a French-saturated existence (French friends, family and companies) since I first arrived in 1989.

The contact seems to follow a fairly predictable script.  They say why they are visiting and when they ask me what I'm doing here, I reply that, well, I've been here for nearly 20 years and....

The conversations forks at this point.  Most of the time the reaction is to tell me how wonderful that is and how lucky I am because they just love Paris and France and the French.  Less often (but it happens) people will tell me how France really didn't live up their expectations and how unhappy they are and how they can't wait to leave.

What is strange to me is how both these reactions provoke very ambivalent feelings in my gut.  To those who tell me how lucky I am, I want to snap and snarl and say that luck has nothing to do with it.  I've worked very hard to make a life here.  It was not easy and some of my experiences have been downright ghastly and painful and ego-destroying.  This is not Disneyland and the French are not Mickey Mouse and his pals.

I have an equally adverse reaction to the unhappy ones.  I become very protective of France and I try to explain gently that it's different but that is not necessarily a bad thing.  Different fields, different grasshoppers.

All my answers feel unsatisfactory to me.  I just don't know how to explain how I really feel in a few short minutes which is usually all the time I have.  I have a long and complex relationship with the Hexagone and its people and like all relationships it has its up and downs.

When I was living in Seattle, a friend of mine who has been married for over 30 years,  told me that a long-term marriage is a wild ride:  sometimes you and your spouse are the best of friends, sometimes you are the most ardent of lovers and every so often you become each others worst enemy.  Over the years you cycle through through these states over and over again.  The secret, she said, was learning how to ride through them.  What holds you together in the end is a commitment to work through the bad times and to wait for better days.

Just as people who are in long-term relationships can be very ambivalent about how they feel about their partner, so I find myself incapable of explaining the exact nature of what holds me here in this place with these people.  There is love, certainly, but there is also a great deal of anger and hurt.  It should be noted that the ambivalence is not just on my side, the French being a bit unsure these days about immigrants in general.  But like a long-term marriage there is an underlying commitment to work it out, to stick it out, even when it is so bad that all I want to do is run and all they seem to want is to punish you in some way for being here.

There is an excellent saying about the difference between dedication and commitment.  The chicken, they say, is dedicated to your breakfast.  The pig, on the other hand, is committed to it.

I am committed to this odd place, this strange tribe, and our sometimes very uneasy relationship. I threw in my lot with the French long ago by leaving everything I knew and loved - all that was familiar and safe - in order to live a life that is not better or worse than the life I could have lived at home, just different.  I do not regret this even during dark times.  However ambivalent I may feel some days, the commitment is a constant and the foundation of my love for this country.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Bac 2011 - Philosophy bis

And we are not out of the woods yet.  If the leaks weren't enough now we have the media disclosing an issue with the Philosophy exam.

Le Point and other news sources are reporting that there are not enough professors to correct the philosophy exams.   There are, as of last week, 3000 copies that are not even in process.  That is to say that they have yet to be assigned to a professor for correction.

According to Le Point the reasons for this are staff reductions in the education system and a slight increase in the number of students taking the exam.

This means that the remaining philosophy teachers have to pick up the slack.  Le Point says that professors are being asked to correct up to 140 philosophy papers in 11 days.  Remember that this is not a multiple-choice exam like the SAT - this is an essay exam with tough questions requiring thoughtful answers that can run for pages and pages (the elder Frenchling said that she wrote around 12).

Now I know that the professors are dedicated people who will do what needs to be done.  I have no doubt we will get the results on time and, as a parent, I am deeply grateful to them for putting up with a situation that is not of their making.

Grateful enough, frankly, that the next time they go on strike, I will be cheering them on.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Bac 2011 - The Leak(s)

Looks like I spoke too soon in my last post.  TF1 is reporting that parts of the English and Physics exams for S students were also leaked via SMS.  See the photos here on RTL.

If that weren't enough my daughter is glued to Facebook right now because her friends are reporting that there are suspicions about other exams for the ES and Literature students (my daughter falls into the latter group).

We'll see how this plays out.  For years I have heard very cynical stories from some of my friends and family here about isolated cases of cheating but I never heard anything that led me to believe that anyone questioned the overall fairness of these exams and the security and integrity of the system itself.

Was it because it was nearly impossible to aid and abet cheating in such a grand manner in the era before cellphones and internet?   Was it because past incidents truly were so rare and isolated that one could be nearly certain that the overall process was just and fair?  Or was it because we didn't have social media then and it was possible to preserve the illusion of fairness by suppressing information that was in everyone's interest not to know?

If the rumors pan out, (and for my daughter's sake I sincerely hope they do not) this will be a scandal of monumental proportions.  Equality (as in Liberty, Equality, Fraternity) is a fundamental and, in my opinion, highly admirable principle of this Republic.   This principle is instantiated in the education system where merit is what gets a student a good grade and entry into a good school - not social position, or money or inside information. If there truly is evidence to the contrary, I suspect that would really shake the foundations of this nation.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Bac 2011 - The Leak

The elder Frenchling took her last exam yesterday and is celebrating with her friends today.  The last test was in German and her only remark when she returned home yesterday was "I hope I passed".

Other students had more reason for concern.  The French papers are reporting that someone, using a cellphone camera, took a photo of one of the questions on the mathematics portion of the Bac S (scientific) exam and published it on the internet prior to Tuesday's exam.

Now this posed quite a conundrum for the government and a real nightmare for the S students since one option for correcting the situation would have been to make 165,000 high school seniors retake the test.

The decision came down today.  The National Education Minister, Luc Chatel, who seems to be a sensible sort, decided to simply eliminate the one question that was leaked - students will only be graded on the other 3 questions.  I'm sure a lot of S students breathed easier after that announcement.  They certainly needed all their concentration for today's tests in Physics, Chemistry and Earth Sciences.

The government launching an investigation into the incident and will file criminal charges if they find the source.  Still, I think this is just the beginning.  Obviously they are going to have to improve their security and start taking into account the cheap, omnipresent, always connected, devices that we all have and adore.

The sun is shining for the first time this week and, for obvious reasons, I'm not really inclined to spend one more minute indoors tickling the keyboard, but when I hear about the immoral use of an otherwise useful technology (and please consider the irony here - the Science students were the victims of the fraud),  I contemplate re-reading Jacques Ellul's book, The Technological Society and his position on "technique."    "Technique," he said, "never observes the distinction between moral and immoral use.  It tends, on the contrary, to create a completely independent technical morality."

Friday, June 17, 2011

Bac 2011 - Philosophy

The second and most important round of final exams for the baccalaureat started yesterday.  Six hours, two subjects:  Philosophy (4 hours) and Literature (2 hours).  The elder Frenchling returned home last night in a state of utter exhaustion but still had enough strength left to do some last minute studying for this morning's History-Geography exam.  

The French school system is unusual in requiring all high school students to take at least one year of philosophy.  I have heard some criticism about this from students and their parents who question the utility of teaching 17-year olds about Kant and Nietzsche.  The loudest complaints, in my experience, come from those who choose a Bac S (Science).  After all, if one is good in math and science, why bother with the finer points of existentialism?  

Having spent the better part of my life surrounded by engineers and having built a career in IT, I am personally delighted that philosophy continues to be a part of the curriculum.  I have sat through many a meeting rather wishing that the people around me had spent a little more time thinking about free will and a lot less solving equations.  I also find it absolutely delicious that my elder Frenchling comes home from school struggling to understand the merits of a philosophical argument and we spontaneously find ourselves deep in a discussion about the meaning of life and the nature of man's illusions. 

Here are the exam questions for the 2011 Bac General Philosophie Serie L.  There are three questions and the students must choose one and then spend the next four hours formulating an answer :

1.  Can we prove a scientific hypothesis?
2.  Is man condemned to create illusions about himself?
3.  Explain the following text by Nietzsche (The Gay Science):
The virtues of a man are called good, not in respect to the results they have for himself, but in respect to the results which we expect therefrom for ourselves and for society: we have all along had very little unselfishness, very little "non-egoism "in our praise of the virtues! For otherwise it could not but have been seen that the virtues (such as diligence, obedience, chastity, piety, justice) are mostly injurious to their possessors, as impulses which rule in them too vehemently and ardently, and do not want to be kept in co-ordination with the other im pulses by the reason. If you have a virtue, an actual, perfect virtue (and not merely a kind of impulse towards virtue!) -you are its victim! But your neighbour praises your virtue precisely on that account! One praises the diligent man though he injures his sight, or the originality and freshness of his spirit, by his diligence; the youth is honoured and regretted who has "worn himself out by work," because one passes the judgment that "for society as a whole the loss of the best individual is only a small sacrifice! A pity that this sacrifice should be necessary! A much greater pity it is true, if the individual should think differently, and regard his preservation and development as more important than his work in the service of society!" And so one regrets this youth, not his own account, but because a devoted instrument, regardless of self - a so-called "good man”, has been lost to society by his death. (Translation from the Full and Free Nietzsche Portal)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

European Blue Card - Focus on France

I finally found the magic search-engine words to pull up information about the EU Blue Card in France.

It turns out that the Blue Card implementation is just one element in a larger immigration reform project called the Projet de loi relatif à l’immigration, à l’intégration et à la nationalité, also known as the "Besson" law. This reform has some very interesting implications for both EU and non-EU immigrants to France. There are new criteria for deportation, for example. Under this new law, foreigners, both EU and non-EU, can be deported for being a "threat to public order." In addition, EU citizens can be deported if they are considered to be "an unreasonable burden on public services." The first seems to target the gypsies, the second any EU citizen who is judged to be abusing French public services like healthcare. The law also calls for the creation of special 'waiting zones' for groups of foreigners who try to pass the borders in large numbers (over 10) which one site I was reading sarcastically referred to as creating "French Guantanamos."

In the middle of all this is the Blue Card. Here is a link to an official French government website which gives a summary of the law and where it is in the legislative process. This site says that law was passed in May and was validated by the Constitutional Council in June. The next step seems to be signature by the President of the Republic (Sarkozy), publication in the Official Journal of the French Republic and then a "Décret d'application" which describes in more detail how the law will be applied.  I'll continue to watch the Vie Publique (official government website) for updates and this site run by Migration Conseil which seems to be on top of things.

In my search for information about the Blue Card in France I stumbled upon something that I had no idea even existed. A quick poll of my friends and family showed they didn't know it existed either. It turns out that France already has something very similar to the Blue Card. It's called the Carte de séjour compétences et talents (the Skills and Talents Work Permit).  If you have an interesting project that would create jobs and you can demonstrate that you possess special skills that would make it feasible and interesting for France and your country of origin, you can apply right now for this card.  More information can be found here.  This was a Sarkozy project launched about five years ago to promote selective immigration.  I, quite frankly, had never heard of it and it does not seem to have been terribly successful.   It was estimated in the beginning that around 2000 of these cards would be granted per year.  The actual number seems to be about 400.    This article describes some of the possible reasons for this.  

In any case, this is an interesting twist.  Will the EU Blue Card replace the Skills and Talents work permit or will the two co-exist?  A suivre.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Flophouse Citizenship & International Migration Reading List

One of the worst days of my life was when I realized that one lifetime would not be enough to read all the books I wanted to read and to research all the topics I wanted so desperately to learn more about.

However, having realized this, I strengthened my resolve to make the best use of the limited time available to me.  I am blessed with good friends who are willing to recommend books to me (and willing to put up with my rather argumentative nature) and I have learned to carefully read the bibliographies of recommended books in search of other authors, themes, thoughts, and arguments.  Tracing the evolution of ideas is one of the most stimulating of occupations.  Sharing those ideas with others is pure bliss.

With that in mind, I assembled a short reading list of some of the sources I've been using.  I hope you find them as useful and interesting as I did.  I plan to add more since I am far from satisfied with my efforts to date.  If you have others to recommend, please, please do so via e-mail or the comments section.


International Migration in the Age of Crisis and Globalization by Andres Solimano (2010).
This is a very well-written, well-argued book.  The author is ambitious and confronts some of the most difficult topics around migration:  Why is International Migration Such a Contentious Issue?  Are Goods and Capital More Important then People?  Don't Always 'Blame' the North, and so on.

International Migration, Remittances and the Brain Drain edited by Caglar Ozden and Maurice Schiff  for the World Bank (2006)  This book contains a number of very interesting essays about the economic impact of remittances and brain drain/gain.  The editors point out that the potential for economic benefit for all parties (individuals and sending and receiving countries)  is substantial but policy decisions need to be made carefully (we are talking about people after all).

Gender and International Migration in Europe by Eleonore Kofman, Annie Phizacklea, Parvati Raghuram and Rosemary Sales (2000).  If you are looking for some empirical evidence (as I was) for how migration, immigration policy and citizenship rights have different outcomes and impacts for women, this is a good place to start.

International Migration and Citizenship Today by Niklaus Steiner (2009).  A very fine book on the political, economic and cultural impact of immigration.  He frames the discussion around two essential questions:  What Criteria to Admit Migrants?  and What Criteria to Grant Citizenship?

Citizenship Today: Global Perspectives and Practices edited by T. Alexander Aleinikoff and Douglas Klusmeyer (2001).  This was one of the best books I read on the topic of citizenship with essays by Patrick Weil, Karen Knop and Richard T. Ford, among many others.   I particularly enjoyed (and will discuss in a future post)  Ford's contribution called "City-States and Citizenship" which was, for me, a real revelation.

The Politics of Citizenship in Europe by Marc Morje Howard (2009).  A really fine study of the citizenship policies of the oldest member-states of the EU.  Read this book to really grasp how citizenship laws have changed over time and the reasons why.

Qu'est-ce qu'un Français? by Patrick Weil (2002).  Mr. Weil spent over 8 years in the archives researching this book and it is fascinating.  France has been something of a test lab for just about every combination of jus soli and jus sanguinis citizenship possible.  Everything has been tried and tried again.  I read the book in French but it is also available in the usual places in English.

Aliens in Medieval Law:  the Origins of Modern Citizenship by Keechang Kim ((2000).  I've been meaning to write a post about this book since it has a very original take on the historical roots of modern citizenship.  I recommend it highly.

Let Them In:  the Case for Open Borders by Jason L. Riley (2008)  The author makes a very radical argument for simply opening the doors and letting people move where they wish.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sunday Morning at the Flophouse

We are just coming off a leisurely three-day weekend (Whit Monday) and the weather was terrible with the exception of Sunday morning.  A good thing since Sunday is market day in the center of Versailles.  Let's retrace our stroll and I'll show you a few of the sights:

The pedestrian path on the Avenue de Paris which leads directly to the castle.
The Avenue de Paris is one of the largest avenues in France.  If you continue straight, it will take you to the Versailles Castle.  If you turn around and go the other direction, it will take you to Paris via St. Cloud.
Past the elder Frenchling's high school, La Bruyere
Two more days until the Bac.  The elder Frenchling has attended this school for the past 2 years which has a reputation for its Literature program.  I personally think it's one of the nicest looking high schools I've ever seen.  The architects did a fine job marrying the older and more recent parts of the complex.
And the police station
This is where we went when my papers were stolen.  I can attest to the fact that the exterior is much finer than the interior.  Given how pleasant and professional they were with me, I'd support a move to dedicate some tax money toward making the police station a lot more comfortable for the personnel. 

Pass through the Flower Market
One of my favorite places and I must keep myself under tight control when we walk through since I have been known to seriously warm up my blue card here.  Plants for the garden are to me what crack cocaine is to a drug addict. 
Wind through the stalls at the Notre Dame market
The Notre Dame market in the city center.  You can find just about anything here (including a pumpkin) and avoid the supermarkets entirely.
And here we are at "our" vegetable stand
We've been shopping at this vegetable stand for the past few years.  Very nice folks and their vegetables are impeccable. Anyone who says that good service is not to be found in the Hexagone never went to one of the markets. 

Flophouse terrace and garden
And home again to unpack the goodies and have a cup of coffee in the sun.



Monday, June 13, 2011

The People Paradox of Globalization

International Migration in the Age of Crisis and Globalization: Historical and Recent ExperiencesOne theme in a book full of interesting ideas about global migration is what  the author of International Migration in the Age of Crisis and Globalization, Andres Solimano, calls "the people's paradox of globalization."   Goods and capital are highly mobile, people are less so.  Not all migrants, however, face the same challenges.  There is a category of people with special skills, knowledge, money and social connections who are not required to submit to the same immigration regulation as workers.  IT experts fall into this group, but also artists, healthcare workers, entrepreneurs, scientists, technocrats, and graduate students.  The European Blue Card, for example, targets precisely these people, hoping to entice them to migrate to an EU country as opposed to Canada or the United States.

So we are looking at a global market where regions or countries adjust their immigration laws to be in line with global market requirements.  The demand is high, the supply is limited.  Many of the targeted professions and skills require years of investment on the part of individuals and their home countries, but countries cannot really prevent this human capital from leaving and destination countries cannot force them to migrate to specific places.  As Porter would put it, "supplier power" is high while "buyer power" is relatively low.  This has some interesting consequences for both home and destination countries.

Home countries divert resources to build talent at home and to harness the productive power of their citizens:  tax relief, public education (in some cases this goes right up to the university level) and even regulatory environments that actively encourage people to become entrepreneurs, making it easy for them to start businesses, fail, learn valuable lessons, and begin again.  All these things create people with transferrable skills that can be used in many places and may, in fact, be in higher demand and thus better paid somewhere else.   A diploma, a good CV or the right experience is a ticket to participation in foreign labor markets which is probably not what the citizens of the home country had in mind when they agreed to subsidize such things in the first place.

What pulls these people to migrate?  Economics are certainly a factor but there are others that are just as important.  Solimano gives three examples:  entrepreneurs seeking capital that is more easily found in the destination country, scientists seeking grants and a collegial world in which to develop their ideas, and creative people seeking a more stimulating environment and the chance to be surrounded by peers who have already gained an international reputation.

The receiving countries, on the other hand, are usually delighted to bring in such talent.  Highly skilled immigrants are relatively few in number (about 10% of global migrants overall) but their impact is quite high.  Enough of an impact that the receiving country not only is willing to differentiate them from other migrants but is sometimes willing to offer them a better deal than ordinary residents and citizens.  Imagine the shock of some of my French friends and family years ago when they discovered that, as an employee of a recognized NGO in Paris, I was exempt from French income tax.

Is this migration of talent really a lose-win situation or can it be beneficial for all the parties concerned:  the individual and the home and destination countries?  I honestly think there are some benefits though I am painfully aware of my own bias on this topic.

Few migrations are "one way trips."  A talented individual may spend some years abroad and return to the home country wiser (one would hope) and with a wealth of new contacts, skills, experience and capital.  Even when he or she chooses to remain in the destination country, connections are created between the home and destination countries that mean new opportunities for collaboration between businesses, scientists, and creative industries (culture and the arts).

That said, selective immigration still makes me a bit queasy.  Over the years I have met any number of very talented migrants who, after coming into a country with very limited skills or severe handicaps compared to residents, have become great assets to their destination countries by providing important, even essential, services that nationals no longer deign to provide, by getting an education or training in areas desperately needed by the host country, and by starting businesses that create jobs for everyone.

Perhaps what is so disturbing to me about all this chasing after elite migrants is that it confers an advantage to already advantaged group of people based on what they have done in the past and makes a projection into an unknowable future about what they presumably will contribute. Potential untapped talent, I admit, cannot be measured so easily but we know it is there in people from all places.  They may simply need to be here rather than there in order to realize it.

Elite migration has its place but so do all the other kinds of migration.  I would not argue against special programs for the first but I would hope that we might do a much better job of valuing the potential and actual contributions of the others.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Tree of Life


Tree of Life from
http://www.betsytruedesigns.com/gallery.htm

This I liked very much.  The New York Times on-line has a page called Mixed America's Family Tree where Americans can construct a simple but elegant family tree complete with photos.  The design is lovely (a tree with colored leaves representing different national origins) and the site developers have made it child's play to use.  Hundreds of people have already submitted their family information.  Have a look.  There is no better way to see how mixed a country of immigration becomes after a few generations.

There was a time in my country's history when openness about one's mixed origins was rarer.  I distinctly remember my paternal grandmother talking about some of my ancestors with the air of someone divulging a closely held, not to be repeated outside the family, secret.  Now we have people, clearly proud of the diversity of their family tree, posting their genealogies on a website for all the world to see.  

Times have changed.  Today we can openly honor our ancestors and celebrate the diversity of the present generation.  This is the progress we have made and this, I believe, is how we will feed our dreams for the future.
There is no past, no present nor future. The present of the past is the memory. The present of the present is action. The present of the future is imagination.
Saint Augustin (354-430)
 From Jean-Jacques Auffret's "Quote of the Day" 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Shared Reality

Yesterday evening the residents of my apartment complex held their annual party, a chance for all of us to meet our neighbors over a kir right before the summer vacation.  We all have something in common living in the same complex and the organizers believe it is a Good Thing to know ones' fellow residents.

We have been here over three years and we have managed to miss every one.  Last year was an exception - I was coming back from a business trip and I was trapped in the corridor between two building by a woman who handed me a glass of wine and convinced me to stay long enough to have a conversation or two.

This year  I made a firm commitment to participate.  I even brought cookies baked by the Frenchlings.

Imagine my surprise when the first gentlemen I talked with at length who, after hearing that I was American,  explained to me that his son had studied in Seattle (my hometown) at the University of Washington (my alma mater) and had worked in California near San Francisco (my brother lives in Sacramento).

And the second person I spoke with, a woman with Spanish origins,  talked about being born in Algeria before independence (like my husband), coming to France as a teenager to pass her Bac, and her child who is presently working in Shanghai (a city I worked in when I was living in Japan).

Finally, the couple living just above us who moved in just a few months ago.  A Frenchman of North African origin who met a lovely Lithuanian woman in Sweden where they were both studying and now they live in France, have a son and they speak English at home and Arabic, Lithuanian and French.  Much discussion about multi-lingual environments and how hard it is to live a language at home when the the people around you seem ambivalent about your efforts.

I left the party basking in the glow of one too many kir bretons feeling truly humbled.  I had forced myself to attend thinking that I would finally meet more of my franco-French neighbors and discovered that: 1. they have as many (if not more) connections to the wider world as me and 2. our lives are like overlapping circles in a Venn diagram in spite of the fact that we were born thousands of kilometers apart.
Human beings don't only search for meanings, they are themselves units of meaning;  but we can mean something only within the fabric of larger significations...
Starting so far apart, we have, through painstaking back and forth, forged a language in common.  We keep describing the flow of experience to each other with the impetus to truth, and thus we keep creating new maps and tapestries of a shared reality.

Eva Hoffman, Lost in Translation 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

European Blue Card - Update June 2011

The Blue Card, an EU-wide work permit, was voted back in 2009 with implementation planned for Summer 2011 in all member states except the UK, Ireland and Denmark.

The new status would cover "any third country national applying to be admitted in an EU Member State to fill a job requiring high professional qualifications (engineers, IT professionals, medical professionals, etc.), including university students having completed their undergraduate studies." You can read more about the original proposal in the European Commission's Citizen's Summary here or Eur-Lex here.

Last time we talked about this it appeared that implementation was stalled in the participating members states' Parliaments and at that time there was no visibility on when or how their governments would start accepting applications.

Look like things are finally moving. Apparently Bulgaria is the first EU state to implement, Slovakia is right behind and the others are supposed to be ready by July 1, 2011. We'll see - the EU member-states are masters at the art of procrastination when it comes to implementing EU directives.

According to this website, Bulgaria started accepting applications on June 1, 2011. I was able to confirm on the Republic of Bulgaria National Assembly website that it was indeed adopted but I have been unable to find out how one goes about applying. A search of the official Bulgarian government website did not reveal more information. If anyone has a link, please pass it along. Another option would be to go through some of the private immigration services websites like this one. Please note that there may be some restrictions in the way Bulgaria is applying the directive. The Sofia Echo says, "The Bulgarian version of the law says that holders of Blue Cards issued by the country would be allowed to work only in Bulgaria for the first two years and only for the employer specified in the application for the card. After that, with Employment Agency permission, a card holder may change employers."

I also checked to see how far along France is in implementing. This site says there is progress but no definitive news yet.

That's it for now. If anyone has news from other member states, please post the information in the comments section. I'll be following this closely and will share what I find out.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Pledging Allegiance: U.S. Debate Over The Fourteenth Amendment

There are other citizenship debates going on in the U.S. parallel to the debate on dual nationality in France.  One concerns the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  Like France the debate was launched at the initiative of the right-wing party.

The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed in 1866 after the American Civil War and became law in 1868.  The full text contains no fewer than 5 sections but it is the first sentence in the first section that is causing all the fuss:
Section. 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. 
That is what is says but the debate is over what it means and how it should be applied.  It has been broadly interpreted and applied by U.S. courts as granting citizenship by jus soli to all persons born in the U.S. even if their mothers were temporary residents of the U.S. or they were living in the U.S. illegally at the time of the birth.   If you consider that there are between 12 and 20 million undocumented residents, millions of legal residents and tens of millions of tourists, students, expatriated businessmen, artists and others passing through the United States every year, and if you assume that roughly half of them are women, that's a lot of potential jus soli citizens.  Let's look at a few of the arguments for and against:

Proponents of changing the law argue that the Fourteenth Amendment was never meant to grant U.S. citizenship to all persons simply because they were born in the U.S. The original intent was to ensure that all African-Americans born in the U.S. under slavery were citizens.   Undocumented and documented residents, tourists and children of ambassadors, have citizenship in and allegiance to another country and cannot be considered to be fully "subject to the jurisdiction" of the United States.  One website I saw cites Elk versus Wilkins as the basis for this interpretation which is a rather unfortunate example because in this case the court ruled in 1884 that a Native American born on a reservation was not subject to U.S. jurisdiction and was therefore not a citizen.

Supporters of the broad interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment point out that in the case US against Wong Kim Ark the U.S. Supreme Court clearly said:
A child born in the United States, of parents of Chinese descent, who, at the time of his birth, are subjects of the Emperor of China, but have a permanent domicil and residence in the United States, and are there carrying on business, and are not employed in any diplomatic or official capacity under the Emperor of China, becomes at the time of his birth a citizen of the United States, by virtue of the first clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.
Much hinges on the meaning of the words "subject to the jurisdiction." Does this term mean that all persons living in the U.S. owing allegiance and with rights and responsibilities to a foreign state are not subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S.? That might imply that the U.S. has no or limited jurisdiction over legal residents, undocumented aliens and perhaps even dual nationals living on U.S. soil. That seems rather silly and I doubt many Americans or the U.S. courts would agree with that interpretation. Or does "subject to the jurisdiction" simply define a category of persons like ambassadors or diplomats or government officials who are in fact clearly not under U.S. jurisdiction and cannot be tried in U.S. courts?  Opinions vary.

In my opinion both sides have good arguments and it's a debate worth having. To those who argue that the entire debate is ridiculous, I think back to the Frenchman I met in the U.S. Embassy who clearly did not wish to be considered an American citizen just because he was born in the U.S.

Which brings up what I personally find interesting about this debate.  All parties are studiously ignoring (or perhaps it would not even occur to them to think about) the whole question of the validity of what I have called on this blog "involuntary citizenship." This is where citizenship is simply granted to an individual through factors completely beyond his or her control and it includes both citizenship through blood (jus sanguinis) as well as citizenship by place of birth (jus soli). Neither requires the consent of the individual concerned - through an accident of birth, the state simply says that you are or are not a citizen and that individual keeps this citizenship all his life unless he or she decides to renounce it. And that seems a bit odd when you really think about it.

My question is this: is it unreasonable to consider that citizenship in a democratic nation-state should be based on explicit consent? That a minor child cannot be said to have pledged allegiance to any state? That regardless of the citizenship of the parents or place of birth, he or she is not a full citizen of any democratic nation until, as an adult, he or she consents to it?

That would really put the cat among the pigeons but it's something worth pondering as nation-states argue the finer points of jus soli and jus sanguinis.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Pledging Allegiance: The Debate about Dual Nationality in France

I think I mentioned in a previous post that Marine Le Pen of the Far Right French party, Le Front National, has expressed in the past in several interviews, her distaste for the idea of dual-nationality for French citizens.

Well recently she came out swinging by sending a letter to all 577 representatives in the National Assembly asking that they do the "republican" thing and require all French dual nationals to choose their allegiance to France or to the other country.  Her language is quite direct:
Dans l’intérêt de la France et des autres nations, dans l’intérêt en particulier de nos relations avec l’Algérie, premier pays concerné, il est ainsi nécessaire d’engager une démarche authentiquement républicaine en mettant fin  à la double nationalité, et de demander à chacun de nos compatriotes placés dans cette situation, de choisir son allégeance : la France, ou un autre pays. 
Translation - "In the interests of France and of other nations, in the interest in particular of our relationship to Algeria, the first country concerned, it is necessary to start an authentically republican move to end dual nationality and to ask all of our countrymen in this situation to choose one allegiance:  France or another country."  
In her letter (full text can be found here) Marine Le Pen pulls out many of the traditional arguments against plural nationality: divided loyalties, destruction of national solidarity, a detriment to assimilation, participation in elections in two different countries and so on.  She singles out Algerians which, to me, guarantees that she is up to no good.  I also found it odd because I saw a study that said Algerians were one of the immigrant groups in France the least likely to become French citizens.  Americans were another, by the way....

One of the first and best replies to this was written by Hughes Serraf.  His post,  "La 5e colonne, elle ne passera pas par moi!" is a very funny and pertinent poke at Le Pen.  He proposes that the reason she chose Algeria as an example in her letter was because of its relative neutrality. It's the English she's really after, he says,  with tongue firmly in cheek.  His wife, you see, is British and their children are dual citizens). So as a good Frenchman fulfilling his duty to the nation:
Je vais les réunir dans le salon sous un prétexte quelconque et je vais leur expliquer, gentiment mais fermement, que « la multiplicité des appartenances à d'autres nations contribue aujourd'hui, et d'une manière de plus en plus préoccupante, à affaiblir chez nos compatriotes l'acceptation d'une communauté de destin ».  Là, je leur fais confiance, elles vont me filer leurs passeports british, je vais les foutre à la poubelle et on n’en parlera plus. 
Translation - "I will find some pretext to take my family into the living room and I will explain to them, gently but firmly, that 'the multiplication of affiliations to other nations contributes today, in a more and more disturbing fashion, to the weakening of our fellow citizens acceptance of our community of destiny.'  Now I am sure that they will trust me and hand over their British passports which I will then throw into the wastebasket and we will speak no more of it."  
Read the entire piece - it is hysterically funny (Serraf is a gifted satirist) and it illustrates beautifully how absurd and cruel the result of such legislation would be if it were played out in the households of hundreds of thousands of French families.

An equally good,  albeit more serious, response came from the master himself, Patrick Weil.  In this article published in Marianne, Weil counters all of Le Pen's arguments brilliantly.  He argues that dual nationality is a factor toward greater integration (not less) and a plus for the influence of France in the world.  He reminds everyone that past laws against dual nationality have been highly discriminatory toward women with Frenchwomen losing their nationality if they married foreign men and not having the right to pass their citizenship to their children (this was true until the middle of the 20th century.)   In his view Le Pen shows a shocking lack of confidence in France itself and her capacity to unite people around her powerful and universal values:  equality, the French language, the Revolution and the separation of church and state (secularism).  He ends with this call for the French to return to those values:
Autour de ses valeurs la France garde un énorme potentiel d’intégration et de rayonnement dans monde, et pour cela les binationaux sont un atout: il nous faut donc sortir d’un débat régressif et malsain qui nous rabougrit, sortir de ces divisions artificielles et se tourner vers un avenir à construire ensemble."  
Translation - "With these values France keeps her enormous potential for integration and for influencing  the world and for these things her bi-nationals are a strength.
What I admire most about Patrick Weil's piece is how he counters a negative initiative with an uplifting positive vision of all that France is and could be.   That, my friends, is exactly the right way to inspire people to love a country and create loyal citizens out of residents.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Playing for Change - Gimme Shelter

Playing for Change has just released a new album:  PFC 2: Songs Around the World.   For the kickoff they have released this video of musicians all around the world playing the Rolling Stones classic, "Gimme Shelter."  Magnificent....

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Pledging Allegiance: The Path to Citizenship Part III

I found this on the official government website for Australia (very eloquent in my opinion)
Australian citizenship is a privilege that offers enormous rewards. By becoming an Australian citizen, you are joining a unique national community. Our country has been built on the combined contributions of our Indigenous people and those who came later from all over the world. We celebrate this diversity and at the same time, strive for a unified and harmonious nation.

How compelling are these arguments? The answer is "it depends." From the individual's perspective there are other considerations. Please note that the following represent what I was able to come up with as an American migrant in France. You may have others or you may disagree with my list. Also, these are reasons to become a citizen and not reasons to relocate and become a legal resident. A migrant moving to a country for personal or economic reasons or one who is escaping persecution or discrimination in his home country can live in the host nation's territory, have access to the job market and participate in most (if not all) social programs quite nicely as a "legal resident alien."

Emotional Attachment:  Genuine sense of admiration and commitment to a country through marriage, through long-term residency, though family ties, through love and appreciation of the language and history.  You like the founding principles of the nation and you want to be a part of it.
Integration:  I call this "feeling at home."  You speak the language, work, have friends and family who you love and you're happy to be living here, in this place, with these people.

Gratitude/Shame: the feeling that you have been granted opportunities to build a life in that country and having enjoyed most of the benefits of residency for so long, you now feel that it is important to make a commitment to that country. When asked why he became an American citizen, Christopher Hitchens said, "I realized that I've been living here a long time and that this country, this society, had been pretty welcoming to me. I was just cruising along with a green card and felt like I was cheating on my dues."

Permanent right to reside: under international law, your country of citizenship must allow you to leave and to return. Legal residents have no such rights (or these rights are limited) and can be deported.

Political equality: a desire to participate in the political process, to vote or run for office. As a citizen you are no longer "taxed without representation."

The Right to Live and Work in Multiple Countries/Territories: UK citizenship gives you the right to live and work in France and all the other countries of the EU. U.S. citizenship gives you the right to live and work in 50 states. Canadians, Mexicans and Americans may have an easier time getting the right to work or reside in other each others countries because of NAFTA.

Career opportunities: you want to be able to work in certain fields or industries that are closed to non-citizens: civil service, defense industry, and state-owned companies.

Family:  as a citizen you can pass your citizenship to your children.  You can also bring other members of your extended family to live with you.

Discrimination:  you do not like the way some citizens teat you as an immigrant.  You think you will be treated better (or at least have more protection) if you become a citizen.

The Quality of the Welcome:  you feel that your destination country and its citizens are happy to have you here.  You are actively encouraged to become a citizen because the people around you feel that you would be a great addition to the nation.

Citizenship is Something Special:  the people around you are proud to be citizens of that country.  They feel it is an honor and a privilege to have been born a citizen of (or naturalized in) country X.


Some reasons not to become a citizen:

The Rights of a Citizen in that country do not interest you:  you are not interested in voting or running for office, you do not intend to reside permanently in that country, you are not planning to bring over your family, you have no desire to work in the defense industry or to become a "fonctionnaire."

The Duties of a Citizen are Unacceptable to you:  military service in that country, for example, or taxation.  The U.S. taxes ALL its citizens whether or not they are living in the U.S.

Loss of Other Citizenship:  you will lose or put at risk the citizenship of your country of origin and you will deprive your children of the right to be born citizens of the country of their grand-parents.

Loss of Protection:  Citizens have the right to ask for the aid and protection of their states of citizenship.  In the case of dual nationals the principle of "dominant nationality" may be applied and you may not longer be able to ask for help of the country of which which you are a citizen but not a resident.

Political Ambitions:  you would like, one day, to run for office in your home country or serve in a high position in the government.  Even where it is allowed by law, you fear that you won't be selected or elected by your home country constituents if you have dual nationality.

Loss of property and inheritance rights:  Apparently this used to be true of certain countries.  It is still, theoretically, possible.  Imagine you have an inheritance or property dispute in the home country.  The sheer effort that will be required to defend your rights (not to mention the look on the judge's face when he/she find out that you live in and are now a citizen of another country) will be substantial which gives a distinct "home court advantage" to your adversaries.

Family Responsibilities:  Some of my friends have aging or ill parents in the home country. If taking on another citizenship means that you cannot easily go home to care for them, that's a problem for you, for them and for the country they live in.

Social Pressure:  The people of your home country may be genuinely offended that you are considering becoming the citizen of another country and they let you know it.  Even where the law permits dual nationality, public feeling is against it.

Integration Seems impossible:  You do not have the sense that the people around you like immigrants (resident or citizen) and they are either ambivalent or actively hostile to your presence.  The political climate makes you uneasy.  You feel that, no matter what you do, you will never be accepted by, and will always face discrimination from, the citizens of the host country.

Complicated Process:  the process is long, bureaucratic and costly.

Citizenship is Nothing Special:  the citizens of the receiving country do not seem proud of their country or of their citizenship.  They don't see it as having value.  When asked, they are unsure as to why you would bother.

In most debates about immigration, citizens tend to tout all the advantages of citizenship and ignore all the negative consequences.  These people impute purely economic motivations to every immigrant or resident who is suspected of trying to take advantage of the host country in some way.

This is beyond ignorant.   Just as no state can make citizenship laws in a vacuum, no individual makes a decision to ask for citizenship without doing some very deep thinking within his own particular context.   Even where both countries accept dual nationality, the choice to ask for citizenship is a complicated moral, emotional, financial calculation where the individual must weigh all the factors for and against before making a decision.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Pledging Allegiance: The Path to Citizenship Part II

The voluntary path to citizenship is naturalization.  This is a formal process where a resident explicitly asks to become a citizen.  The state in question then examines the grounds for granting it depending on the laws prevailing in that country.  Again, there are more grounds for being naturalized than you might think.

Legal Residency:  This pretty basic.  Almost all countries have residency requirements for potential citizens.  The length depends on the country and can range from 1 to 10 or more years.

Amnesty:  Illegal residents can sometimes move toward citizenship under Amnesty programs.  This was done in the U.S. in 1986.  Britain is considering a similar program.  This method is highly controversial.

Marriage:  Most countries have moved away from granting automatic citizenship to a foreign spouse but most countries facilitate naturalization in some way in these cases.  For example, in France a foreign spouse can apply for citizenship after 4 years of marriage.

The State of Origin has ties with the Destination Country:  It appears that in Brazil you can apply for citizenship after one year of residency if you come from a country where Portuguese is the primary language.  Spain seems to have similar requirements for immigrants from "Ibero-American" countries.

Loss of Nationality:   The UN Declaration on Human Rights declares that everyone has the right to a nationality.  If someone is stateless, some country is supposed to grant him citizenship.  The theory is great, the actual practice is another story.  How do people become stateless?  Incompatible citizenship laws, political change, discrimination and so on. If you are a stateless person and you find yourself in Belgium, for example, there is a government office called the Office of the Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons.  Most other countries have similar organizations. It is estimated that there are 679,000 stateless Europeans.  A convention up for signature at the EU level called the "2006 Convention on the Avoidance of Statelessness in Relation to State Succession." but it has not been ratified by the member states.

Military service:  Foreign nationals who serve in the  U.S. military can apply for citizenship after 1 year.  A special executive (Presidential) order signed in 2002 allows all foreign nationals serving in the U.S. armed forced on or after September 11, 2001 to immediately file for citizenship. Service in the French Foreign Legion will allow you to apply for French citizenship after 3 years honorable service.

Adoption by Foreign Nationals/Parental Choice of Nationality:  It appears that, if you were adopted by a foreign national, or your parents left the country and became citizens somewhere else, you can, in some cases, go back to the country of your birth or your parent's birth and ask for your citizenship to be restored.  The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia allows for this if the person makes a request through the Naturalization Department.

Cash:   The Carribean islands of Dominica, Grenada and Saint Kitts-Nevis will make you a citizen for a fee ranging from 50,000 to 250,000 USD.  The Commonwealth of Dominica calls this "Economic Citizenship."  Details are here.

With all those options, you might think that all qualifying persons would be running in huge numbers toward citizenship.  Not necessarily.  There is enormous variation in naturalization rates across countries.  From the data I was able to glean from the Web and other sources, Canada seems to have the highest rate with the U.S, Australia and New Zealand close behind.  Germany, Italy, and Switzerland have very low rates.  I saw one figure that claimed a naturalization rate of only 5% for Germany.  France and the UK appear to be somewhere in the middle.  I saw a figure for France of about 17% which I found shockingly low given the rather generous process.

In the next post, let's talk about some of the reasons legal residents do or do not ask for citizenship in their country of residence even when they meet all the requirements.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Pledging Allegiance: The Path to Citizenship

There are many paths to becoming a citizen - many more ways than most people think and not all of them are up to the individual.  Let's divide them into two categories:  voluntary and involuntary.   Voluntary means that an individual must ask to become the citizen of a state through a formal process.  Involuntary means that an individual simply is a citizen by virtue of some quality that he has little or no control over.  Let's start with Involuntary Citizenship because it has some very interesting twists and turns.

Involuntary Path to Citizenship

jus sanguinis:  citizenship is granted automatically at birth to a child born of at least one citizen parent - an individual can't choose his parents or grand-parents.


jus soli:  citizenship is granted automatically because the child was born in a particular country or territory - an individual can't choose the time or place of his birth.


Acquisition of territory/Political Change:  some or all of the residents are automatically made citizens of the country that now controls the territory. Native Americans were granted U.S. citizenship in 1924.  Hawaiians became U.S. citizens when Hawaii was annexed.  Algerian Jews were granted French citizenship in 1870.  Estonians were incorporated into the USSR between 1940 and 1991 and then most (not all) became citizens of the Republic of Estonia in 1992.

Territories change hands, borders shift, empires ebb and flow and people are tossed around through no fault of their own.

Whim: a state can simply decide to grant citizenship to someone they admire for service to humanity or the nation.  The American, Jonathon Littel, was given French citizenship after his book, Les Bienvaillantes, won the Prix Goncourt in France. The Irish Republic Citizenship Act of 1986 allows the Irish President to "grant Irish citizenship as a token of honour to a person or to the child or grandchild of a person who, in the opinion of the Government, has done signal honour or rendered distinguished service to the nation."

There are a couple of interesting outcomes to automatic or involuntary acquisition of citizenship.

The first is that it can create some fairly tragic/comic situations.  An individual can actually be bi- or pluri-national without even knowing it.  For example, say you are an Canadian citizen traveling to an ancestral homeland.  You have never claimed citizenship in that country because you had no idea that you could.  Upon arrival you announce to all and sundry that your father was born here.  You are then informed that you are a citizen of the country (not a tourist) and 1. you are (if male) required to fulfill your military service and/or 2. you need a passport from that country to leave.

I once met a Frenchman at the U.S. Embassy in Paris who was, to put it mildly, furious.  He had been born some 40 years ago in the U.S. to French parents. The family left the U.S. shortly after his birth (his father was an expatriated businessman).   Now this particular Frenchman needed to travel to the U.S. on business and when he applied for a visa he said that he was informed that he could only enter the U.S. if he had an American passport.   What started out as a simple business trip turned into a bureaucratic nightmare. "I am not an American," he said over and over and over to no avail.

 The Dual Citizenship FAQ strongly recommends that,  "Accordingly, anyone who is planning to travel to an ancestral homeland -- even for a brief vacation trip -- would be strongly advised to check that country's citizenship laws carefully beforehand."

The second is having granted citizenship to individuals involuntarily, most modern states ask very little of individuals in order to keep it.  Paying taxes, obeying the local laws and breathing country X's air don't count - even non-citizen residents are required to do these things.  Some states require military service (mostly for men, but sometimes for women too - Israel, for example) but many don't.  Military service is is no longer required in the U.S., and France, for example.  Even voting is optional in many places. U.S. citizens can be called for jury duty but of the millions of Americans called up, only about half (figures vary) actually serve.

In the next post we'll look at the other category:  Voluntary Paths to Citizenship.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Pledging Allegiance: Plural Nationality Part III

T. Alexander Aleinikoff and Douglas Klusmeyer, in their essay "Plural Nationality: Facing the Future in a Migratory World," divide states into three categories on the plural nationality question:

Open regimes:  Canada, France, Russia and the UK.  All allow multiple citizenship however that citizenship was acquired.  None require renunciation of citizenship once dual nationals reach the age of majority or of their citizens who become naturalized citizens of another country.

Tolerant regimes:  Australia, Germany, Israel, Mexico, South Africa and the United States.  These countries allow dual citizenship at birth but some require the renunciation of one citizenship at the age of majority.  The U.S. tolerates dual citizenship for its citizens who naturalize in other countries but does not, in principle, permit dual citizenship for naturalized citizens.  Australia and South Africa do just the opposite.

Restrictive regimes:  Austria and Japan.  Both follow strict jus sanguinis.  Dual citizenship is generally not allowed (there are exceptions).

In my previous post I asked why states are not more aggressive about applying strict and limited citizenship rules and why they don't make agreements with other states to enforce them in a consistent way order to avoid the "evils of plural nationality".

Here are what I think are three plausible answers:


Costly and Nearly Impossible to Enforce:  Interestingly enough the U.S. did enter into a set of agreements with other states to manage such issues as military service and naturalization.  These were called Bancroft treaties signed between 1868 and 1937.  In that time the U.S. signed a whopping 25 treaties with 34 countries.  They were allowed to lapse because many of the provisions did not stand up to Supreme Court scrutiny and because they were nearly impossible to enforce.

Today the U.S. can hardly keep track of how many citizens it has abroad much less proceed to a case-by-case discovery of how long they have lived outside the U.S. and whether or not they have acquired other citizenship (states do not necessarily share that information with other states).  So between the arduous task of negotiating citizenship treaties with every other nation-state on the planet that past muster with the U.S. Supreme Court, and the near impossibility of enforcing those treaties beyond U.S. borders, it is simply not practical to make such agreements.  Europe seems to have come to the same conclusion.

"Harnessing the Diaspora":  Let's say that a quarter of the French citizens living abroad (about 250,000 people) decide to become naturalized in their countries of residence.  And what if those citizens represent some of the best and brightest and most productive members of the French nation who were raised and educated in France?  The receiving nation is happy to have them because their skills are a net benefit to the destination nation at nearly no cost (it is estimated that there are nearly 500 companies in Silicon Valley, USA started by French entrepreneurs).

Now, what is the likelihood that they will ever come back to France if they become American citizens and lose their French citizenship because France decides to abolish dual citizenship?  Nearly zero, I would imagine.  Moreover, by refusing to allow dual citizenship for its nationals, the French would not only lose the naturalizing citizens to another state but their descendants as well.  By this reasoning the French state has every interest in allowing her citizens to hold plural nationality.  She retain her citizens and their children, and French emigrants are turned into assets to their home country by fostering economic and social ties between all their countries of citizenship and by, perhaps one day, returning to France with their skills, their knowledge and any assets that they acquire abroad.

Impediment to Attracting New Citizens: All states have an interest in having some residents become citizens particularly if they are stable, productive, highly-skilled, long-term residents.  Resident foreign nationals are people who do not participate in the political life of their country of residence and have no allegiance or duties and responsibilities toward that state other than paying taxes and obeying the laws.

In most modern states they also enjoy almost all the benefits the country has to offer (public education, social security, access to the job market...) without becoming full citizens.   Another source of concern is their state of citizenship which has a legitimate interest in their well-being and some limited right to intervene on their behalf.   So from the receiving state's perspective it is better to bring these people into the community of citizens.  However, where renunciation of prior nationality is a requirement for naturalization, even long-term residents think twice and may decline to become citizens of their state of residence.

So the bottom line is that for any agreement to work states would have to set up costly enforcement mechanisms (share citizen databases, for example?), they would have to agree to permanently lose citizens to other states and they would have to accept the likelihood of larger numbers of foreign nationals on their soil who enjoy all the benefits of residency but refuse to become citizens.

What I see when I look at this murky, overlapping, intersecting, inconsistent set of citizenship rules is states jockeying for position and competing with other countries for potential citizens (or just trying to hold on to their own) within the community of nation states.  Everyone is trying to create rules that maximize their interests based on their relative position:  country of emigration versus country of immigration, number of resident foreign nationals, number of nationals living abroad, desire to attract high-skilled labor or labor desperately needed by certain industries, relationships with former colonies or other areas of interest, a need for foreign capital (remittances, for example, or direct investment), demographics, and so on.  States have every reason to compete and very few reasons to cooperate.

The result seems to be a trend toward tolerance of plural nationality.

That's the perspective of the states.  What about individuals?  Do individuals also weigh the costs and benefits and try to maximize their interests?  Of course.

In the next post let's talk about the path to citizenship and the individual.  

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Pledging Allegiance: Plural Nationality Part II

There are four reasons why plural nationality is more and more common:

Migration:  This is the first and the most obvious reason.  There are 5 million American citizens living abroad according to the AARO. Oddly enough, when people move around they still tend to do very human things like marry, have children, build careers, serve a nation, and make lives for themselves in their country of residence.  All those things lead to situations where plural nationality is possible.

Technology:  It is easier today for people to keep a genuine attachment to multiple countries thanks to cheap, fast transportation and personal communication devices.  I can be in the city of my birth, Seattle, in mere hours.  Advances in computer-mediated communication and the growing availability of Internet access make it easy to stay in touch.  Telephone service and radio were a big step up from snail mail but today we have Facebook, email, chat which are all ways we keep in constant contact with loved ones and how we stay aware of and can continue to participate in, the debate on currents events in our home countries.  When you can have that level of contact with another country your attachment to it does not weaken just because you live somewhere else.

State Sovereignty:  Every nation state has the right to decide its own rules for acquiring and losing citizenship and it is considered to be a purely internal matter.  This means there is very little cooperation between states on this issue.  France does not check with all the other countries on the planet before deciding to limit jus soli for the children of immigrants.  Today, people in the U.S. do not verify the coherence or impact of repealing the 14th amendment with the laws of other nation-states.  For that matter,  when the amendment was first implemented did the United States ask other nation-states whether or not they were OK with the fact that one of their citizens by blood could automatically be granted U.S. citizenship just because he or she was born on U.S. soil?

Limited International Law:  There does exist on an international level a minimum ruleset for all states concerning citizenship which seems to consist of saying that everyone has the right to a citizenship somewhere and that all citizens have a right to leave their country of citizenship or return to it.    There is also the 1957 Convention on the Nationality of Married Women and other conventions that cover otherwise stateless persons and racial or sex discrimination by a nation-state in the acquisition of nationality.  Aside from that everyone is pretty much free to make up his own rules and those rules intersect in interesting and often odd ways.

I had a colleague many years ago who was an American citizen by birth, a French citizen by naturalization and was married to a UK citizen.  Her child could have had three passports, all legitimately acquired through a combination of U.S., U.K. and French law.  This fact might infuriate the citizens of the states in question but, to my knowledge, there was nothing illegal about it.

The reality for all states is they cannot make citizenship laws in a vacuum - other states will make their own laws and if they overlap or conflict with yours, well, there is not much you can do.

If states really wanted to stop plural nationality they would 1.  apply a very strict jus sanguinis or jus soli laws internally and force children of mixed marriages or naturalized citizens to choose one citizenship and  2. enter into agreements with other states that would enforce those laws.  

Oddly enough, for all the talk about the evils of dual citizenship, I don't see any modern nation-state doing all of these things.  

In my next post I'll talk about why I think that is.