Dual nationality is not an issue that will go away

Eelco Keij is Dutch but lives abroad

On Saturday a full page advert will appear in the NRC calling on the next government to make dual nationality a reality. The campaign is just one of issues at the heart of a unique lobby group set up to fight for the rights of Dutch nationals abroad, says founder Eelco Keij.

In 2011 I wanted to become a US citizen but when I looked into the legal side, I discovered the Netherlands was dead set against dual nationality, with some exceptions (and I happen to fall into one of those, lucky me).

I was surprised: why was this such a problem, in such an international world, and for such an internationally oriented country? That same year, when it seemed as if even those exemptions would be removed, I and a group of like-minded Dutch people in New York organized a debate at the Netherland Club to discuss this very topic.

A huge crowd showed up, including some MPs, and it was clear: no one wanted this bill, and many in the crowd had already lost their Dutch citizenship and wanted it back. What followed was an online petition, with more than 25,000 signatures from all over the world, a first time to see such a collective virtual fist from Dutchies abroad.

Not too long after the cabinet fell and the threat went away. But my eyes had been opened. In the years that followed, when I was traveling quite a bit internationally, I started speaking about this topic at various Dutch clubs around the world.

This is where I discovered that there were many other issues that Dutch people abroad were confronted with – voting rights, renewing passports, Dutch education abroad, Dutch bank accounts and pensions.

Every time I gave a presentation, I learned something new, and each time I was amazed. In those years, I literally spoke to thousands of Dutch citizens living abroad, from Australia to South America and everywhere in between.

What followed was taking notes, reading parliamentary documents and analysis. I opened a blog and just started writing about everything that I had learned, and whatever I kept on learning. At one point, it became so all engulfing, I was asking myself – how to work with this, how to deal with this?

After all, this was not a paid job, this was a political hobby that had started to take over my daily life. When I sued the Dutch government for non-arrival of ballots abroad, together with other concerned Dutch citizens, I could not work and hardly slept. So how to keep up the lobby without a personal cost that would be too high?

I looked into how other European countries dealt with their citizens abroad and discovered – again – how behind the Netherlands is in its thinking. Based on the examples of Portugal, Italy, France, Switzerland and Croatia I wrote the political manifesto Fortunate Connections that lists best practices from these countries, as well as economic arguments as to why it is in the interest of the Netherlands itself to maintain a tight relationship with its Dutch citizens abroad.

I also learned that many other European countries had foundations to represent the interests of their citizens who lived beyond their borders. In 2019, the Stichting Nederlanders Buiten Nederland was established.

Our board is made up of people representing the whole political spectrum, all of whom have one thing in common – they live in another country and are concerned about the issues that affect them as Dutch nationals abroad. It’s a set up which enables us to make quick contact with relevant members of parliament, while at the same time keeping the organisation politically-neutral.

Since then, we have lobbied successfully for a variety of plans and proposals to make sure that the Dutch abroad are not sidelined by their mother country. We won agreement that the Dutch who were faced with losing their British residency after Brexit would be able to become dual nationals after all – although in the event it proved not to be necessary.

Covid and passports

We managed to mitigate Covid restrictions facing Dutchies who needed to return to the Netherlands for whatever reason. We’ve changed the constitution, so that Dutch citizens abroad can have their say in the make-up of the senate, and we are currently campaigning to make sure every Dutch citizen can keep a bank account while living abroad. We are seen and we are consulted.

That does not mean our work is done, however. The biggest challenge still remains – that of allowing all Dutch abroad –– to become dual nationals.

The Netherlands has some of the strictest – and most old-fashioned – rules on having more than one passport in Europe. Dutch nationals currently automatically lose their nationality if they live away from the Netherlands for more than 10 years and have another nationality. They also have to renounce being Dutch if they take a second nationality, no matter what the reason.

And of course, foreigners who wish to become Dutch currently have to give up their original nationality in most cases – unless they are married to a Dutch passport holder or reach the age of 65.

Foreigners in NL

Let me also add, on a personal note, as it falls outside of the foundation’s mandate, that I think the same rights should be given to internationals living in the Netherlands! It is ridiculous that foreigners coming to the Netherlands are forced to give up their nationality when becoming a Dutch citizen. It’s just all so outdated and counterproductive!

This weekend we are appealing to parliamentarians from all parties to recognise the rights of Dutch citizens abroad – and of those who involuntarily lost their Dutch citizenship – to be dual nationals.

The SNBN is nearing its fifth anniversary anniversary, so we’re writing our new strategic plan for the next five years. We might be abroad but we are not going anywhere. We are here to stay.”

Eelco Keij is a candidate for D66 in the November 22 general election

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