Dual Citizenship: Are you with us or against us?


“Bi-national and loyal: Is it possible?” asked a headline in a local Swiss newspaper. Of the three major candidates running for a seat on the federal council in Switzerland, one of the candidates turned in his Italian passport saying: “I am the only one of the three candidates who is truly Swiss in the large sense of the term,” and a second said he would renounce his French citizenship if elected.

The debate over dual citizenship of potential members of the Swiss executive branch has become heated. For the moment it is not forbidden, leading the right wing UDC Party to call for outlawing double citizenship for members of the federal council in the future.
As a justification of this position, in the same article a member of the center right PLR questioned whether “In case of war a bi or someone having several nationalities could defend the interests of Switzerland against another country?” implying that the other country might be that of the other passport.
Almost 20% of Swiss citizens have more than one legal identity. So technically, there is no reason why someone having more than one passport cannot become one of the seven members of the Swiss executive. 
In an age where globalisation has fostered considerable discontent – within the American White House, in typical us vs. them language, the current narrative pits “globalists” vs. America Firsts – the issue of bi-national loyalty is emotionally charged.
Egypt, Israel and Sri Lanka do not allow dual citizens to be members of parliament. Several other countries – Norway, China, India and Indonesia for example – do not allow dual citizenship at all. Naturalized citizens cannot become president of the United States – what has become referred to as the Kissinger or Schwarzenegger law.
What is the problem here? Quite simply, being a citizen of a country is a legal status. In some countries, such as Canada, one can acquire citizenship by economic assistance such as guaranteeing jobs for a certain number of people. On the other hand, and this is what the true nationalists are saying, citizenship is more than just a legal status, it is also an emotional attachment. In Michael Walzer’s phrase, there should be a “historic fit” between the legal system of a state and the nation or community of people who reside within the state. This is the ideal of the nation-state.
In the classic Nottebohm case decided by the International Court of Justice in 1955, the court stated that while it is the sovereign right of all states to determine their own citizens, the court upheld the principle of effective nationality to decide if citizenship was in question. In other words, a person must prove a meaningful connection to a specific state in cases of doubt. The “effective” or “meaningful” here means there must be more than just holding a passport because one was born in a country, inherited citizenship from parents or acquired citizenship but never developed any significant attachment to the country. There must be more than just legal status but the criteria for measuring “effective” nationality may not be clear.
A current uproar in Australia, a country of high immigration, is another example of the recent bi-national sensitivity. Section 44 of the Australian constitution states that members of the federal parliament must not be “under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power.” Specifically, they cannot be “subject or citizen” of another country. Several members of parliament were forced to resign. A patriotic deputy prime minister revealed that he is also a citizen of New Zealand through his father. If he is forced to resign, which seems most probable, the current government may fall since it clings to power with a majority of one.
In a globalized world, citizenship falls on the precarious border between the national and international. At times of increased cosmopolitanism, there is an obvious attraction to being a citizen of one country with easy access to others such as within the European Union. At times of increased disintegration (i.e. Brexit), nationalism and single citizenship are more attractive.
Does anyone doubt Pierre Maudet’s attachment to Switzerland? Must he prove he is more Swiss than French? The question of holding more than one passport is a legal question. It should not be confused with how one feels about a country or the qualifications for holding office. On the contrary, someone who holds several passports may be more qualified because of a deeper understanding of the international environment from different perspectives.
As with all binary questions, the answer is never as simple as proposed. But in this situation, the answer to the original question about bi-national and loyalty is a resounding yes.
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  • Bi-national and loyal? Loyal to which nationality if it happens that the two nations in question become hostile to each other? No problem to be bi-national for an ordinary citizen but a bi-national politician could have access to informations the country related to his/her second nationality could use against the national interest of the country in which he/she has a politician hat.

  • Dear Mr. Warner,

    Thank you for your continued insights. Alas in practice no true 'binary' answer, except for newborns, does exist. Your Australian example is a good one for its pragmatism. However, if one or two politicians make a sacrifice in that direction for political good, giving up one passport, will anyone follow their lead? In my case, I look forward to settling where I may again be in good graces where taxes are concerned, and I'm unconcerned with the rest.

    Mr. Jarogh,

    There is a large difference where political loyalties are concerned. Even in the United States, McCarthyism prompted marginalized people to renounce their citizenships, reinforcing the 'no taxation without representation' flavor of United States Government. Yet much has been gained by quiet protest, for selfless reasons, or even on the public stage, where there was no other choice.

    At one time, my Grandmother was orphaned in Canada and there remained Stateless (no documented nationality) until she was nearly 50 years old. This misfortune however could've been a boon. Clearly there was no question of loyalty, she was offered none. I'm ashamed to admit it, but in fact I would turn in all three of my nationalities, were this possible, to once again have her guidance in my life.

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