Thodoris Chondrogiannos 25 • 04 • 2021

New naturalisation process creates legal uncertainty and excludes many from the acquisition of Greek citizenship

Thodoris Chondrogiannos
New naturalisation process creates legal uncertainty and excludes many from the acquisition of Greek citizenship
25 • 04 • 2021

By decision of the Ministry of the Interior, the government has introduced new rules for the naturalisation process that effectively prohibit the acquisition of Greek citizenship by foreigners who have lived for years in Greece and have integrated into the social and economic life of the country. The new, much stricter rules, create legal uncertainty and exclude many applicants who under the previous legal regime would have become Greek citizens.

On April 22, 2021, a decision by the Ministry of the Interior was published (Government Gazette B ‘1652/22.4.2021), which provided that, with a delay of six months, the new rules for the naturalisation process provided by Law 4735/2020 would come into force (Government Gazette A’ 197/12/10/2020). Specifically, the decision sets out the criteria for economic and social integration that must be met by foreigners to submit an application to acquire Greek citizenship.

Regarding the income criteria, the decision stipulates that a foreigner who wishes to become a Greek citizen must prove that he has an annual income that ensures an adequate standard of living without burdening the country’s social welfare system. An adequate standard of living is defined in the decision by an annual income of over 8,500 euros, an amount that corresponds roughly to the annual salary at the minimum wage. The income needed also increases with the size of the applicant’s family.

As the human rights organization Generation 2.0 notes, applicants must prove these income levels not only for the year prior to application, but for the years of legal residence required for the naturalisation application.

Indeed, according to the regulations of the Ministry of the Interior, those applicants who are required to complete 3 years of legal residence to qualify (EU citizens, spouses of Greek citizens with a child) must prove sufficient income in these 3 years. Those who are required to complete 7 years (refugees, humanitarian status, long-term residents, second generation, 10 year residence permits and family members of Greek citizens) must prove sufficient income for at least the 5 years prior to submitting their application.

The stricter economic criteria with the need to demonstrate high income for long periods of time actually makes it extremely difficult, if not practically impossible, for many foreigners who, under the previous regime met all the criteria to obtain Greek citizenship based on the Citizenship Code, to be able to obtain citizenship based on the new rules.

Generation 2.0 explain that, “In October 2020, when the bill on the new naturalisation system was discussed in Parliament, an attempt was made by the General Secretariat of Citizenship to provide a minimum sufficient income as a criterion for naturalisation. As an organization, we had from the very beginning expressed our opposition during the public consultation, pointing out that in this way naturalisation becomes a privilege for the few.”  After reactions from opposition parties, and even from MPs of the coalition, the former Minister of the Interior withdrew the provision, stating that they believed it would prohibit the acquisition of citizenship by a large number of people who wish to become Greeks and who otherwise complete all the other criteria required by the Citizenship Code.

It follows from the above that, although initially the government itself acknowledged that proving a minimum income for a long period of time may be prohibitive for many foreigners who otherwise meet the naturalisation criteria, the Ministry of the Interior have now set extremely strict economic criteria which in fact seem to overlook the reality of the labour market in Greece following the economic crisis, a period in which not only foreigners from third countries, but also Greeks and European citizens are struggling to find a stable, adequate income.The situation is worse however for third country citizens; according to ELSTAT, in the last quarter of 2020 unemployment in third country citizens rose to 28.2%, 13 percentage points above the unemployment rate of Greeks.

It should be noted that the above criteria also apply to those who applied for Greek citizenship under the previous naturalization rules. “In this way, the government not only excludes the vast majority of those who wish to apply for naturalisation in the future, but also those who have applied in the past and have already paid the fee of 550 or 700 euros before 2019,” Generation 2.0 points out.

Where is the problem with the rule of law?

In a state governed by the rule of law, there should be consistent rules for the process of naturalisation and the acquisition of citizenship.

However, the new legal framework for the acquisition of Greek citizenship provides such strict rules that it is made practically impossible for foreigners to meet them, even though they have integrated into the economic and social life of the country and otherwise meet the criteria for acquiring citizenship.

In fact, the government has changed the rules for those who had already applied for Greek citizenship, causing legal uncertainty by overturning the naturalisation rules under which their application was lodged.

Thodoris Chondrogiannos
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