Taking the German citizenship test after Brexit: here’s how I fared

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Following Brexit, the parliamentary leader of the Green Party has asked the German government to adopt a “generous” approach to British immigrants. Usually, immigrants must wait eight years, or six for someone has made a special contribution to German life and three for those married to Germans, before aplying. Katrin Göring-Eckardt has asked the government to to allow applications from those who have lived here for less than six years.

Regardless of the waiting time, British immigrants would still need to take the citizenship test and prove their command of the language. So far as the language is concerned, you can take a standard test, or you can present other evidence, such as a degree from a German-speaking university.

The language test aims to see whether you can speak German well enough to handle everyday situations, including work. For those who know their language education, it involves demonstrating that you have reached European Language Proficency Level B1. I took a written test, missing out the oral and spoken sections as I did it from home, and found B1 reasonably easy.

Given their backgrounds and occupations, most Brits should easily pass the citizenship test. Since 2008, the test has been administered by the Federal Bureau for Migration and Refugees, and developed by educationalists at the Humboldt University of Berlin. It comprises a battery of 310 multiple-choice questions; each applicant has to take 33 questions and must pass at least 17.

The questions are concerned with establishing the candidate’s knowledge of Germany society, culture, and political arrangements. A small number of questions will concern the Land in which you live. There are four possible answers to each question, and you have to select the correct one.

As an example from the current catalogue, here is a question about the constitution:

Which right belongs to the constitutional rights in Germany?

  • owning a weapon
  • the right to fight with fists
  • freedom of opinion
  • taking the law into your own hands

And here is one from recent history:

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Which was the coat of arms of the German Democratic Republic?

None of these is likely to trouble the average British immigrant. I took the test and passed with 31 out of 33. My incorrect answers were to do with constitutional matters (how long between elections in North-Rhein Westphalia?) and I guessed some (how many MPs in the federal parliament?). I should add that I took the tests out of interest, and won’t be applying myself.

So for Brits this is likely to be a straightforward process. You have to pay €255 per person for processing your application; and if you go to an adult education centre or similar for your language test, they will charge you a small sum, usually €25. And then you wait. At the moment there is a bit of a queue, but at least citizenship applications are dealt with a lot more quickly than asylum applications, which can drag on for over a year.

Why the Greens have made an issue out of British immigrants is something of a mystery. There isn’t a clear issue of principle, as Britains in Germany are hardly seeking asylum from persecution; for the most part they are highly educated middle class professionals who are here to work.

Moreover, the Greens’ request will have no practical impact on government policy, not least because the processing of citizenship applications is devolved to the sixteen Länder. And even if all British immigants became Green voters overnight (improbable), there are too few to make much difference in elections.

Frankly, there are many more pressing and deserving groups of migrants in Germany right now than the Brits. My personal view is that the Green intervention was a bit of self-indulgence; but in fairness the Greens have consistently pressed for faster and more effective processing of asylum applications as well as citizenship applications. I’ll save writing about why I think asylum processes in Germany are in such a mess in another blog.

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Adult learning and the Great War

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The centenary of the Great War is attracting a remarkable amount of attention. Probably some people are now tweeting that they are sick of hearing about it, as though it were just another celebrity scandal. But for most people, the War was a turning point in modern history – and because of the way that ordinary men and women were involved, it is a highly evocative experience in which family and community memories are threaded through our own lives.

For historians, particularly if they are committed to sharing their research with a wider audience, this controversial centenary presents a fabulous challenge. There is already plenty happening for adult learners wanting to improve their understanding of this tragic, heroic conflict. I reckon the BBC really is on top of its game, with a series of online presentations – like Ian Macmillan’s discussion of poetry and perceptions of the War – that are really mini-MOOCs.

I’m equally impressed by the programme of activities organised by the Yorkshire and Humber region of the Workers’ Educational Association. This includes courses on the causes and consequences of the Great War to family history workshops exploring relevant source material. Not to be outdone, the Whitstable branch of the WEA is running a course on women’s experiences with the evocative title ‘From suffragettes to munitionettes’ (listed in the hot courses guide, madly, under ‘Fun and Careers’).

Then there are museums, libraries and archives services, starting with the National Archives, which is recruiting ‘citizen historians’ to help tag entries in unit war diaries. In Gloucester, the county archivists are supporting a project led by the Everyman Theatre to provide training and learning resources so that local learners can contribute to community commemorations.  Bishops Stortford Museum is leading another project on crime and disorder during the War.

As well as funding a major programme led by the Imperial War Museum, the Heritage Lottery Fund is supporting local studies. University of the Third Age groups are researching the impact of the war on their local communities, or tracing the names on village war memorials. Huddersfield rugby league fans are examining the impact of the War on their club and its players. And the Arts and Humanities Research Council is encouraging researchers to undertake community engagement activities to connect academic and public histories of the First World War and its legacy.

All this is pretty encouraging, particularly as it is hard to find any examples of mindless jingoism or simplistic dismissal. Nevertheless, I wonder whether it is right that most of these activities, valuable though they are, are taking place within a local or at best a national frame. The exceptions, such as the family history roadshows being ordganised through the Europeana crowd-sourcing project, remind us that the Great War was a
Europe-wide conflict.

We can also learn from links with others who are marking the centenary from very different perspectives. In Germany, the Volkshochschulen have drawn up a handbook of ‘tips for practice’ in dealing with the Great War. It suggests examples ranging from discussions of source material around family history or everyday life in 1914 to group visits to major exhibitions and places of memorial, and also encourages tutors to ask whose history is being discussed (Germany in 1914, of course, being a colonial power which also had influential allies in the middle east).

In Austria, the Society for Political Education is supporting proposals that shift the focus away from such major events, asking applicants to consider such questions as: What events flow into the cultural memory and endure as part of the culture of remembrance? Why these events and not others? What part does the politics of history today play in shaping the political domain and political education?

I suppose Mr Gove would be pleased that the film series planned by the Volkshochschul in Offenburg includes neither Blackadder nor Oh What a Lovely War. But I’m confident he would be horrified by the idea of bringing together various World War I related activities provided by adult education organisations across Europe in order to create dialogue, research and discussion. That’s what the European Adult Education Association is planning, and it would be good if others did the same.

The year of the educated citizen?

This week, the Irish Government – which holds the presidency of the EU – is launching the European Year of Citizens. According to the European Commission,

The better the men and women of Europe understand their rights as EU citizens, the more informed the decisions they can take in their personal lives, and the more vibrant democratic life in Europe can be at all levels.

Throughout the year, the EU and its member states will organise a series of events, nationally and locally as well as at European level, aimed at giving people information about their rights, and encouraging them to exercise them.

 One justification for this focus is the finding from an opinion poll, commissioned by the EU, which found that under half of those surveyed felt they knew what these rights were. In the case of the UK, six out of ten feel they do not know what their rights are as European citizens. The figures are even higher in several countries, including France and Italy, though in Ireland the proportion who thought they were familiar with their citizenship rights was slightly above the EU average. 

Six out of every ten people across Europe said that they wanted to know more about their rights as EU citizens.  So there is plenty of demand for greater information and understanding. The Commission has set aside a budget of a million Euros to fund Europe-wide activities and resources. Its main concern is with the right to free movement, under which people can live and work in any EU member state. This is potentially controversial across Europe, with resentment against immigrants on the rise everywhere. 

On the other hand, while complaining about others who move to their own country, most people are very pleased to be able to work or retire in other people’s countries. By 2010, the Commission estimates that over 12 million Europeans were living in another member state – not counting tourists and other short-stay movers, like ERASMUS students. 

In response to the Commission’s designation of 2013, some 50 non-governmental bodies formed a European Year of Citizens Alliance. These are mostly European-level federations such as the European Woman’s Lobby, the European Disability Forum, the European Federation of Older People and the European Anti-Poverty Network. They also include the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides. Few of the Alliance come from the world of education, though they do include a society for former ERASMUS students. None – rather to my surprise – comes from adult education. 

As well as promoting the Year of Citizens and supporting activities, the Alliance has also campaigned for a wider and more generous understanding of citizenship. It is difficult to disagree with their view that the gap between citizens and EU institutions is vast; more arguable is their belief that it is possible to bridge the gap without a major overhaul of what the EU is and how it decides its business. And this, of course, would require exactly what no-one much wants – such significant constitutional reform that it amounts to a new Treaty. 

I find myself slightly torn about all this. There’s more than a whiff of self-interest about the European Commission’s role. After all, if citizens decide that the EU is a bunch of shysters who are up to no good, then what business has a transnational state in persuading them otherwise? And I dream of seeing Ireland’s President attacking the hypocrisy of Europe’s governments in promoting a Year of Citizens, after decades of increasing surveillance, obsessive secrecy, declining political trust, and diminishing voting levels – not forgetting recurrent corruption scandals. 

At the same time, the Year opens up a space for debate over what it means to be a citizen of the EU in our times. And this is of enormous interest to anyone in higher education and lifelong learning. Our universities are full of innovative programmes for active learning in the community, where students learn new capacities and develop their understanding of citizenship by working with voluntary groups. In adult education, the Workers Educational Association continues to lead the field in democratic practice.

The irony, as Mark Ravenhall pointed out in Adults Learning recently, is that elsewhere in the system there is barely any connection between the efforts of those who run and work in public education institutions, and the range of democratic processes that produce the policy-makers who fund them. I don’t think that a European Year of Citizens on its own will do much to change that, but at least it creates opportunities for debate, and prompts connections between different actors. Genuinely educated citizens – now, there’s a goal worth striving for!

The official website of the European Year of Citizens is at: http://europa.eu/citizens-2013/en/home