What does it mean to be a dual citizen?

After Malmö mayor Ilmar Reepalu ruffled feathers last week by suggesting ‘temporary’ citizenship as a way to combat crime, contributor Ruben Brunsveld reflects on the meaning of passports and citizenship.

What does it mean to be a dual citizen?

Recently, I met up with a good friend of mine whom we shall call John.

John lives in Stockholm, has a Swedish girlfriend and works for a Swedish employer. But when you meet him he’s definitely American.

As usual, John was in a hurry when we met. So we decided to meet up for lunch at O’Reillys at T-Centralen in between his train from the south and the red line going north.

As we attacked our hamburgers and fries, we discussed topics often discussed in Sweden in the autumn: the holidays, getting back to work, and the kids’ heading back to school.

But somewhere in this seemingly innocent conversation John dropped a line that kept me pondering all week.

He told me about his troubles with the Swedish Migration Board (Migrationsverket), which wanted to keep his US passport for three months after he applied for Swedish citizenship.

Since John is a big-time traveler this caused him some problems.

But the logistical issue was not why I kept thinking about this conversation. I could not help but wonder: what is the value of one’s passport?

Is it just a piece of paper, or do we need a historical and emotional connection to the country of which we are citizens?

Is it just a travel document or does it have a deeper meaning?

John’s main reason for applying for a Swedish passport is that he travels a lot within the EU and – being American – having a Swedish passport would make travelling much easier.

But can citizenship be boiled down to something so pragmatic, so mundane?

An important factor is that he does not need to give up his American citizenship in order to become Swedish.

I am sure that if that were the case, he would not do it.

Which raises the question: if the emotional connection with his American citizenship is so strong that he will not give it up, is it then fair to assume a second one just because it makes the waiting lines at customs shorter?

Shouldn’t one’s passport be about even more than a feeling?

Another issue is that we tend to equate citizenship with nationality and subsequently with loyalty.

In recent years in the Netherlands two state secretaries have come under fire for having double citizenship.

The right-wing PVV argued that a member of cabinet with two passports ‘therefore’ had two potentially conflicting loyalties.

In their view, this was not reconcilable with the exclusive loyalty a cabinet member should have towards his or her own government.

The first state secretary had Dutch and Turkish citizenship and the second one was Dutch-Swedish. Some people argued there was a difference between those two cases since Sweden is a member of the EU and Turkey isn’t.

In the end, neither case was perceived as a large enough problem to warrant more than a short-lived news item, and both state secretaries were allowed to remain in office.

But wait! Hold your horses!

According to the Lisbon Treaty I am a ‘citizen of the Union’.

Article 20 states that every person holding the nationality of an EU Member State shall be a citizen of the Union.

This ‘Union citizenship’ shall be additional to and not replace national citizenship.

Oh wow! So I do have dual citizenship!

But do I feel it as well? As a long time fan of European integration and former employee in the Brussels bubble I know what the EU is all about.

I even feel some kind of allegiance to this project called Europe. But it is a project, not a country.

So would I give up my Dutch passport for a European one? How European am I really?

Rationally I am convinced that citizenship does not equal loyalty.

We can be ‘citizens’ from different nations at different levels at the same time.

Just as I am both a Dutch and a European citizen. But emotionally, I fear the big test: Tuesday, October 11th at Råsunda Stadium when Sweden squares off against my native Netherlands in a qualifying match for the Euro 2012 football tournament!

If Zlatan is the first to find the back of the net, how truly European will I still feel?

Ruben Brunsveld is the Director of the Stockholm Institute for Public Speaking (StIPS), which offers training in Intercultural Communication, Public Speaking & Negotiation Techniques

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What’s behind the long wait to renew Swedish passports?

In many parts of Sweden, it's now impossible to renew your passport until September, forcing many people to grumpily put off long-awaited breaks in places like Thailand. What's going on and what can you do about it?

What's behind the long wait to renew Swedish passports?

How do you get and renew a Swedish passport? 

In Sweden, you apply for and renew your passport at a passport centre run by the your local police.

To get a Swedish passport, you need to be a Swedish citizen, and bring along your national ID card, driving license, or an identity card for those who are resident in Sweden. In normal times, it’s a very quick and convenient system, with a machine in place to take your passport photo and also, to the alarm of privacy advocates, to scan your fingerprints.

How long is the current wait to renew passports in Sweden? 

Extremely long. According to the Swedish police, in the worst affected regions, it is now impossible to book a time slot to renew a passport before September. 

Here’s how long you will have to wait depending on where you live: 

  • September: Halland, Västra Götaland
  • August: Blekinge, Jönköping, Kronoberg, Skåne, Östergötland 
  • June/July: Kalmar, Stockholm, Värmland 
  • June: Södermanland, Dalarna
  • May/June: Gävleborg, Västernorrland
  • May: Gotland 
  • April: Jämtland
  • March/April: Norrbotten, Västernorrland

Source: Police/SvD

What’s the reason for the delays? 

With pandemic restrictions severely limiting travel through much of 2020 and 2021, particularly to locations outside the Schengen area, a lot of people did not bother to renew their passports as they expired.

As a result, local police passport centres are now having to handle a large backlog of applications, at the same time as the usual applications from people whose passports are expiring this year. 

“Partly it’s because we’re about to go into high season, and partly it’s because people have not renewed their passports during the pandemic, but have waited until restrictions have been lifted,” Linda Ahlén, chief of the unit which handles passports in the Swedish police, told the TT newswire in February. 

Torben Pedersen, passport officer at the police in Helsingborg, told state broadcaster SVT that police estimated that about half a million people had put off renewing their passport during the pandemic. 

The booking system in Helsingborg is so overloaded, he said, that it crashes whenever the police try to add new times in the morning, meaning they have to trickle in new appointment times in the afternoon. 

What could be done? 

In the short-term, not much.

Those who are really desperate to renew their passports and are willing to travel can theoretically book a time in one of the regions with shorter waiting times. They can then choose to have the passport sent to a passport office back in their home region, where they can pick it up without having to make an appointment. 

A second-hand market has also sprung up, with people selling time slots for as much as 500 kronor. According to the police, this is not illegal, although they say people should not book times they do not need.  

In the longer term, the system could be reformed. Perhaps Sweden should set up a new passport authority separate from the police? Or perhaps, Sweden could make its passports valid for ten years rather than five years, bringing the country in line with US, the UK, France, and most other countries.