GLOBALCIT Review Symposium on Ana Tanasoca, The Ethics of Multiple Citizenship, Cambridge University Press, 2018


Jo Shaw, University of Edinburgh and Tampere University

It is easy to feel troubled by multiple citizenship. It feels intuitively wrong, when so many people around the world are struggling to establish that they have even one citizenship, that others have multiple citizenships. With multiple citizenship comes, so the common characterisation runs, easy, or easier, access to various public and private ‘goods’, such as powerful passports (and different passports for different circumstances) and lawful residence in different places affording rights to work, own property, be self-employed and enjoy family life, not to mention options to maximise benefits from multiple residencies in terms of taxation. The very fact that some people seem to have these choices can be said to suggest a widespread instrumentalisation of citizenship, as something which is devalued precisely because the basis on which it is allocated seems not to be based on consistent and coherent principle.

From the perspective of scepticism about the possibility that a person can properly and legitimately hold more than one citizenship at once, Ana Tanasoca has written an interesting and provocative book, which opens up many new lines of enquiry that others will doubtless follow in the future. Rather than instrumentalising several citizenships, Tanasoca is urging us to value one. She does this from the starting point of a commitment to cosmopolitanism, rather than to a nationalist idea that citizenship and allegiance should somehow be perpetual and exclusive. She rejects the idea that dual citizenship has a boundary dissolving function (p. 160), and argues instead that it reinforces the importance of boundaries, precisely because some people – for whatever reason – want to surmount them. That opportunity is not, however, equally distributed, and therein lies the problem. Within Tanasoca’s argument it is possible, depending upon life circumstances, to change citizenship, so long as citizenships are those of choice, not of convenience.

This is a book which should appeal to scholars and readers across a range of disciplines, given the approach that she takes. In addition to normative theory, her home discipline, Tanasoca’s argument makes ample use of literatures from fields as diverse as international relations, sociology, economics and demography, and psychology. Legal scholarship is also touched upon. This is unsurprising as lawyers – both academic and practising – have been prominent in the literature that has started to emerge on multiple nationality, as it has become a much more common state practice, and as measures within international law to encourage its reduction or even elimination have largely gone into abeyance and been replaced by measures to protect human rights dimensions of citizenship (e.g. personal identity and family life) and to combat statelessness.

Tanasoca’s argument focuses on citizenship as a human rights claim, even though it is a human rights claim upon an institution which is in large measure an artefact of states rather than an inherent feature of the good life as a human. Since many agree that no moral values as such flow from this artefact, it is important to postulate what type of moral theory might then support the argument that singularity of citizenship is more defensible under current conditions than multiple citizenship and that, ‘in its present form, multiple citizenship should not be embraced and defended indiscriminately’ (p. 4). Perhaps unfortunately, Tanasoca does not devote a specific section to sketching what she sees as the key features of an ethical citizenship, but helpful clues emerge here and there. An ethical citizenship ‘furthers robust reciprocity’ (p. 65). She upholds the proposition that ‘states may want all members of the community to share a common meaning and value of citizenship’ (p. 73). Further, and perhaps most crucially, we learn that ‘thinking of [citizenship] as satisfying the desire for profits may lead us to forget that it is first and foremost a human right – that is, it should satisfy the basic needs of people, not desires for profits’ (p. 74). These latter comments come in an illuminating chapter on citizenship by investment. Woven through the book is an aspiration to pursue the ideal of equality in relation to citizenship, but a fear that dual citizenship at present does not foster this. For example, in Chapter 5 she worries at length about the problems that arise from people being able to participate in two political communities, but it is unfortunate that she fails to delineate sufficiently clearly what the appropriate boundaries of political communities might be, so that we can focus on a satisfactory sortation of actual and potential members.

The book plots a course through the main mechanisms by which multiple citizenships will arise. It focuses on both acquisition at birth (by descent and by attachment to territory) and after birth (with a focus on ordinary naturalisation and citizenship by investment). In the second part of the book, it pursues some consequences that arise from the sceptical analysis that dominates the first part of the book. One particular strength of the book is a fluent chapter on the problems posed by the market for citizenship – the ultimate instrumentalisation of the concept of citizenship, many would argue. Her choice of the market for noble titles as the basis for a comparison and a review is thought-provoking. In the final chapters, Tanasoca reviews a number of policy proposals, including suggestions to ensure that multiple citizenship is always an active rather than a passive choice, to impose some sort of tax on multiple citizenship, and to unbundle the rights associated with citizenship and to allocate voting rights, in particular, separately from other rights. This seems to be a suggestion that builds directly upon the idea of ‘denizenship’, which solidifies the rights of the non-citizen resident in ways that fall only just short of the rights of citizenship. This proposal responds most effectively, according to Tanasoca, to her desire as a cosmopolitan to create frameworks that do not offer false promises of ‘post nationalism’ or undermine equality both within and between polities.

Whatever judgment one places upon it, it is certainly true that from a legal perspective multiple citizenship does engender complexity, and this complexity has rarely thus far been examined closely or systematically. There remains plenty of scope for work that approaches dual citizenship descriptively, pragmatically and analytically, picking up on the challenges of figuring out the relationships between sets of overlapping norms which may be in conflict, regardless of whether dual citizenship is engendered by family formation, human mobility, deployment of resources (i.e. ‘purchase’), or state creation or secession. Indeed, multiple citizenship raises a number of important challenges to the idea of a world premised on distinct national legal orders. Both private and public international law offer only limited resources for sorting out conflicts or dissonances between orders.

Legal scholarship is less likely to judge either implicitly or explicitly the instrumentalisation of citizenship, whether by states, citizens or both parties. Instead legal norms are more likely to be focused on easing the consequences of human and structural choices, making instrumentalisation easier, for better or for worse. Nowadays, international law seems to accept, or at least tolerate, dual citizenship. Law is normative, but in the sense of determining whether norms have outcomes, e.g. in the form of legal procedures or redress that individuals can invoke. As Tanasoca rightly notes, most legal scholarship on multiple citizenship has not focused on the ethical challenges that it raises, except insofar as concerns the possible (and so far limited) scope for human rights standards. A potential ‘international law of citizenship’ that embodies both human rights and instrumental concerns in a single code remains embryonic at best. As a minimum standard, we can argue that international law has now recognised that one of the better ways of ensuring Arendt’s ‘right to have rights’ and of protecting the human right to a nationality has been to temper the hostility towards dual citizenship that featured in both state practice and numerous early international conventions. The neglected story of women’s statelessness as a consequence of the fetishization of family nationality is an important corrective to a story that focuses on multiple citizenship mainly as a story of instrumentalisation or even greed, not basic need. In such circumstances, states – supported by international law – seemed to accept that it was ‘natural’ for women to ‘give way’, with evident costs for them, even if that meant they lost ‘their’ nationality in ‘their own’ country. It took many decades for states to unpick all of the gendered assumptions about nationality and human agency that underpinned these norms, and in some cases equality in the nationality sphere remains incomplete even now. This is not a place one would wish to return as a result of the resurgence of singularity of citizenship.

One of the most interesting points that Tanasoca stresses is that citizenship should involve elements of choice. Of course, this does not and cannot happen with the vast majority of cases of citizenship attribution, as these occur at birth, with all the inequality consequences that this gives rise to, as is well known. But her argument in Chapter 3 shows that she is prepared in some circumstances to countenance dual citizenship after naturalisation in a host state, provided that both citizenships remain matters of choice: active not passive citizenship should be the norm. This is one of the most important contributions of this book.

The widespread adoption of such an approach to ‘active’ citizenships and to renewal requirements (measures which are not unknown in current state practice), if applied across generations, could have significant consequences for the purposes of clarifying, for example, what amounts to ‘best’ state practice. A renewal requirement would not, on its own, eliminate some of the incidences of dual citizenship that Tanasoca sees as ethically problematic, such as citizenship by investment. But as an alternative to either a renunciation requirement or a cancellation principle, which will both ensure that the newly naturalised citizen (and especially their children, who may give it no thought) do not ‘accidentally’ retain the citizenship of the state of origin which can come back and impose costs or risks later in life, the principle of ‘active citizenship’ looks useful. In these cases, as we shall see from two examples below, dual citizenship is not only instrumentalised by individuals in certain cases, but also by states and other private, corporate or public actors. These types of examples highlight that there may be a more complex narrative involved in addressing the issues raised by dual citizenship than perhaps emerges from the picture painted by Tanasoca.

For example, the ‘active citizenship’ principle could be the basis for reducing one area of emerging uncertainty that is affecting some dual citizens by naturalisation or by descent, namely vulnerability to loss of citizenship for actions which are deemed to be contrary to the public good. The case of Shamima Begum illustrates this point. Begum is a UK citizen who may, or may not, also be a Bangladeshi citizen by descent, who was – apparently – stripped of her citizenship at a point when she expressed a desire to come back to the UK, which she had left some years previously to join ISIS and to become what is unfortunately termed a ‘jihadi bride’. She is vulnerable to citizenship deprivation under the terms of UK law partly because she may be a Bangladeshi citizen by descent and partly because the UK legal provisions are broadly framed leaving much discretion to the executive. The legal point around citizenship is uncertain. What is quite certain is that she has never taken any active steps to assert her Bangladeshi citizenship, has never been to Bangladesh, and would almost certainly find it impossible to travel to Bangladesh or to receive diplomatic protection from that country. She seems, therefore, to be effectively stateless because the UK executive has taken a decision on the assumption that she is a ‘passive’ Bangladeshi citizen. It is arguable, in that context, that the state is ‘weaponising’ dual citizenship against its own citizens, when other – more appropriate – measures exist for dealing with those who have been radicalised in the way that Begum was (given that she was young and vulnerable at the time), including criminal law sanctions and anti-radicalisation measures. Building an ‘active citizenship’ principle into the statelessness provisions that are part of the UK’s citizenship deprivation ‘armoury’ would be a good way of inhibiting problematic situations such as that involving Shamima Begum arising, both from the perspective of the individuals affected and also in the relations between states which can be soured, at the diplomatic level, if states of origin perceive that dual citizenship is being used in this way in order outsource a ‘problem’. There is more than a tinge of neo-colonialism in the way that the UK has treated Bangladeshi citizenship in this case.

Another example of latent citizenships with ‘bite’ is provided by the case of the Australian constitutional ban on legislators (at the federal level) having dual citizenship. After a number of years when this constitutional provision largely disappeared from public view, it became live again in the hands of party politicians, who discovered it was a useful ‘weapon’ for destabilising their opponents. As a result of fresh interpretative guidance issued by the High Court of Australia, more than ten parliamentarians have been ruled ineligible to sit in the Australian parliament since 2017, and of course countless others dissuaded or prevented from standing, because of the need to pursue complex bureaucratic steps to renounce citizenships they sometimes never knew they had, until they were required to make a detailed enquiry into family history. We can set aside the obvious cases, where budding parliamentarians could have been expected to know that they needed to make sure they had only Australian citizenship (e.g. if they were not born in Australia and/or had themselves naturalised). Beyond that, however, in a country largely built on quite complex patterns of immigration, emigration and re-immigration, there are many people with dormant citizenship ‘entitlements’ stretching back several generations, and even cases where the law has been changed in the country of origin (e.g. to restore stripped citizenships), which no reasonable person could be expected to know about. The insistence on legislators with single citizenship (as opposed to legislators who commit to exercising only their Australian citizenship and to showing exclusive allegiance to the Australian state) has effectively become a bar on many people standing for office, and an impediment to the Australian legislature reflecting the increasing multicultural diversity of that country. These problems could be overcome by implementing the opposite of an ‘active citizenship’ principle, namely the commitment on the part of legislators that any other citizenship, in the event that it applies, will be passive, at least for the period of time of legislative office.

One final comment on the ever-changing salience of dual citizenship issues should be made, this time in the context of the European Union, where the idea of vertical ‘dual citizenship’ is commented upon in various parts of the book. The European Union, with its concept of Union citizenship and free movement for citizens, has offered a common home within which dual citizenship at the national level might be thought an unnecessary supplement to the guarantees provided by supranational law. It is ironic that one of the consequences of the UK’s referendum vote to leave the EU, and thus the impending arrival of Brexit, has been to motivate some Union citizens to collapse their acts of (dual) European citizenship back into acts of national citizenship, by seeking citizenship in the host state, or by relying on ancestry based citizenships in order to ensure the preservation of the line of free movement on which they had hitherto relied, by other means. The removal of the idea of the common legal home creates the paradox of dual (national) citizenship being more needed or sought after at precisely the same time as it may become more difficult because the UK’s departure from the EU means that the exception for EU citizens provided for in, e.g. German law, will no longer apply.

Dual citizenship displays both empirical and ethical complexities, which have changed in significant ways over time. Tanasoca’s book opens up new lines of research which will prove fruitful for future researchers.

This review has received funding from the Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship, Building Citizenship Regimes: a global perspective, 2016-190.