Dispute breaks out over citizenship for migrants

Prime Minister George Papandreou has, according to sources, ordered his government to defend a law passed last year that allows second-generation immigrants to apply for Greek citizenship after a panel of judges recommended that the legislation should be scrapped.

Asked to rule on one aspect of the law, which allows foreigners to vote and stand in local elections if they gain Greek citizenship, the fourth section of the Council of State said this was unconstitutional.

The judges went on to say that granting citizenship to children of migrants «cancels out the national character of the state» and suggested that this was a blood right that should only be available to the offspring of Greeks. It also claimed that the criteria necessary for non-Greeks to apply for citizenship were too «general.»

The citizenship law allows a child born in Greece to documented immigrant parents to apply for citizenship. It also permits second-generation immigrants to vote in local elections and to stand as city councilors.

Although the judges’ ruling has to be put before the Council of State’s plenary, which could reject the recommendations, it has rekindled an ideological battle between PASOK and New Democracy, which vehemently opposed the legislation when it was introduced.

«With this law, the government garnered the vote of migrants,» said the conservative party’s spokesman Yiannis Michelakis. The electoral register showed that about 13,000 non-EU residents and 15,000 EU citizens had the right to vote last November.

PASOK responded by underlining that the law was not a ruse to attract the support of economic migrants but an effort to help long-term residents assimilate into Greek society.

«It is the first time strict preconditions for granting Greek citizenship have been set out, putting an end to the corrupt process favored by the New Democracy government,» said PASOK’s secretary Michalis Karchimakis.

The Socialists dismissed the judges’ ruling as reflecting a «specific ideological approach.» Sources said Papandreou, a staunch supporter of the law, ordered his government to do whatever it can to ensure the law remains intact.

In what is likely to be a drawn-out political battle, the Communist Party and the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) criticized the court ruling, while the nationalist Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) backed it.

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