Following years of political and expert debate in the 1990s, the amended Nationality Act (StAG) was passed on May 21, 1999. It supplements for the first time the principle of decent (ius sanguinis), which had long remained in effect exclusively in Germany, with elements of the principle of place-of-birth (ius solis).The essential aspects of the new law went into effect on January 1, 2000.
Prior to its amendment in 1999, Germany’s nationality law was based on the Nationality Act (Staatsangehörigkeitsgesetz) of 1913, which dated to the final years of Germany’s imperial era. Unlike in other European countries, this law was based upon the principle of decent [see: Passage of the Reich Nationality Act, 1913]. According to this principle, a child born in Germany could only acquire Germany nationality if at least one of its parents already themselves possessed this nationality by decent.
The nationality of the child is thus tied to that of its parents. Deriving from this principle is an understanding of the citizenry as a “racial-ethnic-national” community, based on an ideology of blood and soil and an especially strong loyalty to the state.
The 1999 amendment of the Nationality Act by the SPD and Green Party coalition government supplemented for the first time the principle of decent (ius sanguinis), which had long remained in effect exclusively in Germany, with elements of the principle of place-of-birth (ius solis). As a result, children born in Germany could now automatically acquire citizenship, provided that their parents had for at least eight years been living in the country “lawfully” (§ 4 Paragraph 1 StAG). The coalition government’s goal had originally been to give the principle of iussolisequal weight alongside that of decent and thus to ease the granting of dual citizenship. The loss of its majority in the Bundesrat following the 1999 state parliamentary elections in Hesse, however, forced the government into a political compromise that brought about the provision for so-called “obligatory opting” which remains in effect today.
According to this provision, children born in Germany to parents from outside the EU and who are in possession of both a German passport and a passport from their parents‘ country of origin must decide before their twenty-third birthday which nationality to retain. Obligatory opting has been criticized principally on the basis of the legal uncertainty, unequal treatment, and bureaucratic expenditure that it entails. It also contradicts the prohibition, contained in Germany’s Basic Law, on the withdrawal of citizenship. Critics have noted that obligatory opting does not correspond to the reality of Germany as an immigration society.