No. 26




Possibilities and Risks of Multiple Citizenship

19 December 2012


RiTo No. 26, 2012

  • Leif Kalev

    Leif Kalev

    Professor of Political Studies, Tallinn University

  • Ruth Annus

    Doctoral Candidate of State and Political Science, Tallinn University

Establishing a citizenship regime is a very complex matter where one has to find the best possible balance between human rights, the functioning of the state as a whole, and a practical administrative solution. One also has to consider what kind of solutions are legitimate enough in the given social space of values and actions. The European states are of different opinions on the matter of allowing or prohibiting multiple citizenship.

Estonian citizenship policy has changed very little since the restoration of independence, and we have always supported the opinion that the main principles of citizenship policy should not be changed. Acknowledging the fact that many Estonian citizen who were refugees have acquired citizenship of another country in addition to that of Estonia during the Soviet occupation, and with that, have become citizens of several states, Estonia has still adopted a prohibition of multiple citizenship as the basis of its citizenship policy. Avoiding multiple citizenship is a fundamental principle of Estonian citizenship policy. This is based on the assumption that Estonian citizens respect Estonian laws, and the state does not need to apply sanctions or force the person that is a citizen of some other state in addition to being a citizen of Estonia to give up on one or the other citizenship.

Currently many Estonian citizens have ties in several countries, so legalization of multiple citizenship would potentially affect at least 245,000 persons. This is a considerable amount of people connected with Estonia, whose rights and interests would be affected by the made decisions.

The standards of international laws concerning multiple citizenship are not binding for Estonia. The Constitution does not oblige to allow multiple citizenship and does not declare this impossible, so allowing or continuing to prohibit multiple citizenship is an issue of political decision. According to the Constitution, it is possible in the case of allowing multiple citizenship to treat citizens by birth and naturalized citizens differently, if there is a valid reason. The Constitution allows to provide a list of states whose citizenship Estonian citizens are allowed to acquire. Should the multiple citizenship be legalized in any way, Estonia’s citizenship policy will change drastically. This would bring along serious expenses, so in the light of defending
the Constitutional values a question of political interests arises: should we spend public resources to cover the expenses that would arise from the legalization of multiple citizenship, or should we rather use them to support and strengthen the Estonian communities in different countries? The latter however would first require collecting and analyzing an adequate amount of data, since the establishing of social ties with and attitudes towards Estonia of citizens and compatriots living abroad cannot be achieved quickly.

When considering the possibility of legalizing multiple citizenship in whichever way and for whatever groups of persons, it has to be kept in mind that a decision of this kind is practically irreversible, so the decision on the legalization of multiple citizenship should not be made in haste. An extensive public debate based on sufficient basic information and analysis has to precede the decision-making.

Full article in Estonian