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How could Germany’s planned reforms to citizenship law change?

Critics of the German coalition government’s plans to relax citizenship law have been making proposals to change it - including tightening employment requirements and introducing an antisemitism test.

A German passport
A German passport. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

Germany’s coalition government will soon be putting its proposed changes to citizenship law before the German parliament.

As The Local has been reporting, the draft bill aims to make naturalisation easier by allowing dual citizenship, cutting the required period of residence from eight to five years and enabling high achievers to become German after just three years.

READ ALSO: UPDATED: The key points of Germany’s draft law on dual citizenship

But as the government works on finishing off the draft, opponents of the proposed relaxed citizenship law are gearing up to put forward their proposed changes.

A secure livelihood

The current draft of the bill states that applicants for German citizenship should be able to secure their own livelihood without the need for support from state benefits such as Bürgergeld or housing benefits.

However, in the opinion of some politicians, this is too lenient.

Federal Justice Minister Marco Buschmann (FDP) told Welt am Sonntag: “The requirement must be clear: To acquire German citizenship, someone must be able to live permanently from their own gainful employment.”

In a joint paper, Free Democrat (FDP) politicians Stephan Thomae and Konstantin Kuhle demanded that naturalisation should only be granted to “those who can earn their own living and provide for their family.” Any exceptions to this rule, they say, should be scrapped.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Can I still get German citizenship after claiming benefits?

The current citizenship law allows someone to be naturalised even if they are not able to support themselves and their dependents, “for reasons of public interest or to avoid particular hardship” and the draft law plans to keep this exception.

The CDU/CSU in the Bundestag has also come up with a concrete proposal to ensure that only those in gainful employment can apply for German citizenship.

Parliamentary group vice president Andrea Lindholz (CSU) said that this should be expressed even more clearly in the citizenship law.  “The law should include the prerequisites that naturalisation will in principle only be possible in the future if the foreigner has been continuously employed for the previous 24 months and an adequate old-age pension can be expected at the time of naturalization,” she said.

The words “Agentur für Arbeit” (work agency) on the building of the Federal Employment Agency in the city of Oldenburg, Lowe Saxony. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hauke-Christian Dittrich

“We do not want immigration into the social systems. A prerequisite for naturalisation must therefore also be a certain degree of economic integration,” she added.

In defence of the draft bill, Hakan Demir, SPD expert on citizenship law, told WELT: “Already now, securing a livelihood is a prerequisite for naturalisation.” Justified exceptions for people who are not responsible for receiving social benefits themselves are “pragmatic and allow the authorities to do justice to the situation in individual cases,” he said.

READ ALSO: INTERVIEW: Germany on track to pass dual citizenship despite opposition

According to Demir, the exceptions apply, for example, to people who become unemployed as a result of their employer’s insolvency, who are caring for relatives in need of care, or who cannot fully cover their living expenses because of education.

“None of these cases should result in people, who after all must otherwise have fulfilled all other requirements, being prevented from naturalization.”

Adherence to the basic law

According to the current draft law, naturalisation is out of the question if the foreigner “shows by his or her behaviour that he or she does not accept the equal rights of men and women laid down in the Basic Law”.

These can include “anti-Semitic, racist, xenophobic or other inhumanely motivated actions incompatible with the human dignity guarantee of the Basic Law”.

But, according to a recent report in BILD, the FDP is urging that this requirement be sharpened up and it wants anti-Semitism to become an exclusion criterion for naturalisations.

READ ALSO: German conservatives criticise dual citizenship plans for promoting ‘loyalty conflicts’

For this, they suggest an anti-Semitism test be carried out before naturalisation and that there should be a detailed examination of whether applicants have ever taken part in anti-Semitic demonstrations or are members of an anti-constitutional organisation.

FDP Secretary-General Bijan Djir-Sarai said: “Anyone who does not accept our values cannot be naturalised.” A “genuine declaration of loyalty to the Basic Law” is extremely important, he said.

The FDP is also proposing citizenship applicants take an oath to confirm allegiance to the principles of the basic law.

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Manpower shortage dims solar panel boom in Germany

Germany is racing to meet its climate goals and massively expand renewable energy sources like wind and solar. But is a lack of skilled labour standing in the way of its ambition?

Manpower shortage dims solar panel boom in Germany

Balancing on a sloping tiled roof, apprentice Pascal Ode installs a solar panel under the watchful eye of his trainer.

Hopes are high that Ode may soon be able to install the systems on both homes and businesses.

When he is trained, he will be a much-needed new pair of hands in the industry that is crucial to Germany’s energy transition — but is suffering from an acute worker shortage.

Demand for new photovoltaic panels soared as Europe’s biggest economy was forced to ramp up the share of energy produced by renewables in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine which hit energy supplies, lifting prices.

The conflict has led Germany to end its reliance on Russian energy, at a time when the country was also accelerating its plan to become carbon neutral.

Compared with 2021, the installed photovoltaic capacity in the residential sector has leapt by 40 percent.

“Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, many people wanted to free themselves from fossil energy and the high costs of energy,” said Wolfgang Gruendinger, spokesman for Enpal, one of many companies benefitting from soaring demand.

The Berlin start-up offers long-term solar panel rentals, complete with installation and maintenance.

The formula is proving attractive. Enpal, which began business in 2017, said it has rented 40,000 kits to individuals, including 18,000 last year alone.

It currently installs 2,000 kits a month.

“Demand is very strong. We have to install many units in the shortest possible time, while at the same time, we are seeing huge shortages in qualified workers,” said Alexander Friedrich, who was hired by the company to train new employees.

To cope with the demand, Enpal set up its own training school last year in Blankenfelde, in the south of Berlin, to train workers to install panels, as well as train specialised electricians to work on photovoltaic panels.

“We are recruiting people from all backgrounds — former pizza workers, cooks, delivery riders, taxi drivers,” said Gruendinger.

The company puts about 100 new hires through the school each month.

Among them is Ode, 19, who responded to an advertisement on Instagram offering the four-week training.

READ ALSO: Can German homeowners expect high renovation costs under new EU law?

‘Something new’

Learning “something new” had attracted him to take on the challenge, he told AFP.

“I really enjoy the fact that it is a job that comes with fresh air and that you’re always on the road,” he added.

Enpal does not have prohibitive education criteria for their new hires. But one key requirement is for new recruits to climb a high ladder reaching at least two storeys up to screen out those with a fear of heights.

The sound of drills, screwdrivers and metal components being handled by groups of apprentices reverberated around the training hangar.

Wearing helmets and attached to ropes, the trainees were practising on roof replicas mounted on the ground.

Solar panel installation Germany

Trainees install solar panels at the solar power company Enpal’s training facility in Blankenfelde: Photo: Odd ANDERSEN / AFP

Their task is urgent.

Germany is aiming for 80 percent of its energy needs to be covered by renewables by 2030, against 46 percent a year ago.

To do so, lawmakers have set a target of installing 215 gigawatts (GW) of photovoltaic capacity by 2030 — meaning that annual rate of installation has to be tripled from last year’s effort of 7.2 GW.

The plan is for roofs of factories and commercial buildings, as well as fields, to be covered with them, according to draft legislation promoting their installation.

But “the shortage of qualified workers threatens to slow down the energy transition”, warned the Cologne-based think-tank German Economic Institute (IW) in a recent report.

The worker gap is so wide that the Federation of Solar Industries BSW said it was looking to Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s ambitious immigration reform to provide some relief.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Why Berlin is voting on going climate neutral by 2030

The law, expected to be passed this year, is aimed at easing immigration issues.

The BSW cites the example of a recent agreement that aims to attract Indian workers trained in solar energy installations.

IW estimates that there is a shortfall of 216,000 electricians, heating and air-conditioning experts, and IT specialists necessary to develop the solar and wind energy sector in Germany.

The figure does not take into account plans to bring back production of solar panels to Germany.

Bring production back

Currently, 80 percent of the panels’ components come from China, according to the International Energy Agency.

The massive reliance on the Asian giant for the supply chain for materials such as polysilicon, wafers, cells and modules has come to the fore for Germany after it was recently stung by its dependency on Russian energy.

Once a leader in producing photovoltaic cells, with market heavyweights in the 2000s like Solarworld, Q-Cells and Centrotherm, Germany has seen its market share plunge after state subsidies dried up and China ramped up its production.

Over the past two decades, some 100,000 jobs in the sector have been lost.

But the trend may be starting to reverse.

Swiss specialist in the sector, Meyer Burger, built a factory at Thalheim, east Germany, in 2021, spurred by lower production costs and growing homegrown demand.

By Sophie Makris