By Arnfinn H. Midtbøen (Institute for Social Research Oslo), GLOBALCIT expert
On December 6 2018, the Norwegian Parliament decided to allow dual citizenship, bringing the country back in line with its Nordic neighbors. The decision breaks with the historical tradition of singular citizenship, but was already proposed by the current conservative Government in its political platform in 2017. The fact that it was a conservative government that proposed the amendment of the Nationality law is testament to a changing rationale for the introduction of dual citizenship in the Nordic region, where retainment of citizenship for emigrants and national security issues are key arguments. The amendment is expected to enter into force in 2020.
A brief history of dual citizenship in Norway
Avoidance of dual citizenship has been an explicit goal of Norway’s citizenship polices ever since the country adopted its first nationality act in 1888. Although the number of dual citizens has grown steadily from the 1970s onward, mostly due to increased immigration and legal exemptions from the main rule, Norway has held on the principle of singular citizenship for a longer time than its Nordic neighbors. Sweden was the first country to allow dual citizenship in 2001, followed by Iceland and Finland in 2003, and Denmark in 2015.
When Norway adopted a new citizenship act in 2006, the principle of singular citizenship was maintained, even though the preparatory expert committee (with one dissenting voice) recommended that Norway should follow Sweden and allow dual citizenship. The committee majority argued that acceptance of dual citizenship would speed up the process of immigrant integration and claimed that the problems traditionally associated with dual citizenship from the perspective of the state – split loyalties, military draft in two countries, problems related to diplomatic protection and concerns for national security – were of minor importance. The committee minority, on the other hand, claimed that the views of the majority were based on a too individualistic notion of citizenship, and that acceptance of dual citizenship was likely to erode traditional Norwegian ideals of equality.
At that time, the Centre-Right Government chose to endorse the view of the committee minority, emphasizing in their proposal for the new act that ‘citizenship is a key symbol of affiliation and loyalty to the Norwegian political community’, and that ‘the right to participate directly in national politics implies that the primary political loyalty ought to be made clear’ (Ot.prp. No. 41. (2004–2005)). In this view, dual citizenship is seen as liberal and ‘immigrant-friendly’, and in direct conflict with loyalty to the nation state. Correspondingly, only the Socialist Left Party [Sosialistisk venstreparti] and the Liberal Party of Norway [Venstre] argued in favour of dual citizenship when the proposal for the new act were discussed in Parliament in 2005.
In 2017, the two parties making up the Norwegian government – The Conservative Party [Høyre] and the right-wing Progress Party [Fremskrittspartiet] – changed their views on the matter, both deciding to allow for dual citizenship in their respective party congresses. The Liberal Party joined the government after the election the same year, and the new government’s political platform [Jeløya-erklæringen] stated that the government would introduce dual citizenship in Norway. The formal proposition (Prop. 111 L (2017–2018)) was submitted to Parliament in August 2018 and was discussed in December. All parties voted in favor of dual citizenship except for the Norwegian Labour Party [Arbeiderpartiet] and the agrarian Centre Party [Senterpartiet], securing a strong parliamentary support for the Government’s proposition.
The changing rationale for dual citizenship
Importantly, the close to consensual decision to allow dual citizenship in Norway was not based on a cross-party endorsement of a liberal take on dual citizenship, but rather rests on a set of very different arguments. To be sure, the Socialist Left Party and the Liberal Party still used the traditional arguments for accepting dual citizenship, namely adjusting the law to an increasingly globalised world and to incorporate immigrants into the political community. The Conservative Party and the Progress Party, however, put forward two quite different arguments.
First, accepting dual citizenship would allow Norwegians living abroad to keep or retain their Norwegian citizenship. Second, because it is still considered illegitimate to make people stateless, allowing dual citizenship would simultaneously allow for citizenship revocation of dual citizens who engage in or support terrorist acts. Indeed, an important backdrop of Norway’s acceptance of dual citizenship is that the conservative Government in 2016 proposed a legal change providing for loss of citizenship concerning persons who have been convicted of serious criminal acts and criminal acts that defy fundamental national interests. This proposition entered into force in May 2018 and opened for the change in view on dual citizenship, especially for the right-wing Progress Party.
The changing rationale for dual citizenship in Norway is remarkable. Neither of the two new arguments – citizenship retainment for emigrants and the possibility of citizenship revocation of dual citizens – was present in the parliamentary debate on the issue back in 2005. And in 2018, the Centre Party was the only party arguing that acceptance of dual citizenship would weaken the bond of loyalty between the citizen and the nation state; i.e., the traditional argument against dual citizenship which was heavily used in 2005. The development of the discussion in Norway is very similar to the Danish case, however: When Denmark’s Parliament accepted dual citizenship in 2014 it was based on a similar two-sided logic. This suggests that a changing rationale for accepting dual citizenship is spreading in the Nordic region.
Although the Nordic countries have a century-long tradition of cooperation and unity in citizenship law and policies, they have chosen strikingly different paths in the 2000s with liberal Sweden and restrictive Denmark on each side of the spectrum, and Norway, Iceland and Finland in intermediary positions. There are few signs of a renewed interest in Nordic collaboration in the field of citizenship. Regarding the issue of dual nationality, however, Norway’s decision to allow dual citizenship in 2018 brings the country back in line with its Nordic neighbours.
The featured image of this article is a faithful photographic reproduction of a two-dimensional public domain work of art, the Norvegia Regnum, Vulgo Nor-Ryke.