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Iberian Nationality Legislation and Sephardic Jews

‘With due regard to European law’?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 August 2015


Proposal to grant Spanish nationality to Sephardic Jews – History of Sephardic Jews in Iberia – Sephardim and the Portuguese nationality code – The EU and the nationality laws of the member states – Impact of Union law on the acquisition of Iberian nationalities by Sephardic Jews – European Convention on Nationality – Sephardim from third countries – Micheletti – Nottebohm

Copyright © The Authors 2015 

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Professor emeritus, University of Amsterdam, European University Institute (Florence). This paper is partly based on an essay, ‘Iberische Wiedergutmachung voor sefardische joden: een Nederlandse barriere voor naturalisatie tot Spanjaard of Portugees’, Nederlands Juristenblad (2014) p. 1432. The paper was presented at the ILEC Conference ‘Who Owns EU Citizenship?’, Brussels, 29 April 2014.


1 See Davies, N., Vanished Kingdoms, The History of Half-Forgotten Europe (Penguin Books 2012) p. 205Google Scholar ff., especially p. 218.

2 See e.g. Pietschmann, H., ‘Spain and Portugal’, in K.J. Baade et al. (eds.), The Encyclopedia of Migration and Minorities in Europe: From the Seventeenth Century to the Present (Cambridge University Press 2011) p. 120Google Scholar ff.

3 Fuks-Mansfeld, R.G., De Sefardim in Amsterdam tot 1795 (Historische Vereniging Holland and Uitgeverij Verloren 1989) p. 43Google Scholar.

4 R. Rubio-Marin et al., Country Report on Citizenship Law: Spain, (EUDO Citizenship Observatory RSCAS/EUDO-CIT-CR 2015/4, revised and updated January 2015), <>, visited 26 March 2015, p. 14: ‘In recognition of its historical debt to Sephardic Jews (expelled from the Spanish Kingdoms in 1492) the legislator included the descendants of this community in the group which needed an abbreviated period of residence to be able to apply for Spanish nationality.’

5 Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines, lost after the Spanish-American war of 1898, are absent from this list.

6 ‘Proyecto de ley en materia de concesión de la nacionalidad española a los sefardíes […]’, Boletín oficial de las Cortes Generales, BOCG-10-A-99-1.

7 The draft Bill proposes to amend Art. 23 Codigo Civil, which lists the common requirements for acquiring Spanish nationality, by option, by naturalisation as of right and through receiving a carta de naturaleza, by including a sub-clause b.: ‘los sefardíes originarios de España’ among the groups that are not required to give up their previous nationality.

8 Republicans abroad are loath to take an oath of allegiance to the King and therefore refuse the easy route to (re-)naturalisation.

9 Cf. Art. 24 European Convention on Nationality (1998) on exchange of information.

10 On the basis of a Royal Legislative Decree of 20 December 1924. It concerns Sephardim in Greece and Egypt. According to the Explanatory Memorandum to the draft Bill, some 3,000 Sephardim acquired Spanish citizenship up to 1930. During WW II, according to the Explanatory Memorandum, many Sephardim profited from the Royal Decree of 1924 and received consular protection, even if they had not re-acquired Spanish nationality.

11 Art. 1(2) draft Bill. Interestingly enough, the proposed Art. 1 of the draft Bill states that it applies whatever the ideology, the religion or belief of the Sephardim may be. This has been deleted in the version put before Parliament.

12 ‘O Governo pode conceder a nacionalidade por naturalização, com dispensa dos requisitos previstos nas alineas b) e c) do no.1, aos descendentes de judeus sefarditas portuguesas, attravés da demonstração da tradição de pertenca a uma comunidade sefardita de origem portuguesa, com base em requisitos objetivos comprovados de ligacão a Portugal, designadamente apelidos, idioma familiar, descendência direta ou colateral.’

13 There were earlier manifestations of guilt or regret about the treatment of the Sephardic Jews in Portugal. In the late 1980s, President Mario Soares made this regret clear in several speeches, as he told me shortly afterwards, on the occasion of his visit to the European University Institute.

14 Art. 15(1) Rijkswet op het Nederlanderschap [Dutch Nationality Code].

15 Art. 9 Rijkswet op het Nederlanderschap.

16 This lacuna is not only an element of incoherence in the Dutch nationality legislation, but is also in itself unjustified.

17 ECJ 7 July 1992, Case C-369/90, Mario Vicente Micheletti and others v Delegación del Gobierno in Cantabria. See on this landmark-case notes by, among many others, de Groot, G. R. in Migrantenrecht (1992) p. 105Google Scholar and Jessurun d’Oliveira, H. U. in 30 CMLReview (1993) p. 623Google Scholar.

18 Micheletti, supra n. 17, para. 10.

19 See in this vein my note on ECJ 2 March 2010, Case C-135/08, Janko Rottmann v Freistaat Bayern, 7 EuConst (2011) p. 138.

20 Conclusions of the Presidency (Edinburgh 12 December 1992), SN 456/92 part B annex 1.

21 Read the illuminating and detailed essay by S. Carrera, ‘How much does EU citizenship cost? The Maltese citizenship-for-sale affair: A breakthrough for sincere cooperation in citizenship of the Union?’ CEPS Paper in Liberty and Security in Europe, No. 64 (April 2014), <>, visited 26 March 2015.

22 This reference to ICJ 6 April 1955, ICJ Reports (1955) p. 4, Nottebohm (Liechtenstein v Guatemala) is erroneous. That Nottebohm possessed the nationality of Liechtenstein was not in dispute, even if it had been bought; the question was which consequences had to be drawn from that fact under international law as to the diplomatic protection Liechtenstein was prepared to exercise vis-à-vis Guatemala.

23 EP Resolution on European citizenship for sale, 2013/2995 (RSP), 16 January 2014.

24 See e.g the Act of 4 September 1802 (26 Vendémiaire Année XI), which grants French nationality to foreigners who ‘apporteront […] des talents, des inventions, ou des industries utiles, ou qui formeront de grands établissements.’ It is obvious that outstanding sportsmen, scholars etc. are naturalised and bought by states to show off in the international arenas.

25 See my note on Rottmann, supra n. 19; cf. also note G. R. de Groot and Anja Seeling, 7 EuConst (2011) p. 150.

26 Rottmann, supra n. 19, para. 62.

27 Rottmann, supra n. 19, para. 42.

28 There are a few exceptions in the Dutch code which allow some groups to retain their Dutch nationality while acquiring another nationality: according to Art. 9(2) Rijkswet op het Nederlanderschap, these concern persons born abroad who have their residence there at the time of the acquisition of the nationality of that country; persons before the age of majority who have lived at least for a period five years in the country of the other nationality; nationals who are married to a person of that other nationality.

29 ECtHR 11 October 2011, No. 53124/09, Genovese v Maltam, para. 30; see also para. 33.

30 ECtHR 26 June 2014, No. 65941/11, Labassée v France, para. 76; the same considerations in its decision of the same date: ECtHR 26 June 2014, No. 65192/11, Menesson v France, para. 97.

31 Williams, D., ‘Israel’s Sephardim abuzz at expanded Spanish citizenship offer’, Reuters, 10 February 2014Google Scholar, <>, visited 26 March 2015.

32 Rottmann, supra n. 19, para. 42.

33 Nottebohm, supra n. 22.

34 Compare the situation in the Federal Republic of Germany , where ethnic ties are required. Art. 116 Grundgesetz recognizes ethnic German displaced persons (‘Vertriebene deutscher Volkszugehörigkeit’) as qualifying for German citizenship, with the effect that, since 1950, 3 million persons who had lived sometimes for many generations in the Soviet Union and other Eastern European states, displaced or not, availed themselves of the right to return to Germany and (re-)acquire German citizenship. Cf. Brubaker, R., Citizenship and Nationhood in France and Germany (Harvard University Press 1992) p. 171Google Scholar.

35 Some developments in this area: the European Economic and Social Committee made a proposal to amend Art. 20 TFEU ‘so that third- country nationals who have stable, long term residence status can also become EU citizens.’, and called for inclusion of third country citizens in the Union citizenship, EESC opinion, ‘A more inclusive citizenship open to immigrants, SOC/479 (16 October 2013), OJ C (6 March 2014) p. 16, paras. 1.11 and 1.8. Cf. in the same vein the Tampere Presidency Conclusions (15 and 16 October 1999) Nos. 18 and 21. See also my case note on Rottmann, supra n. 19, at p. 149 with further literature.

36 See about De Froe (who, after WW II became Rector Magnificus of the University of Amsterdam): Cohen, J., ‘Arie de Froe, Wetenschapper in dienst van de goede zaak’, De Gids (2013) issue 4, p. 3Google Scholar; d’Oliveira, H.U. Jessurun, ‘Het wetenschappelijk geweten’, De Gids (2013) issue 4, p. 7Google Scholar. Furthermore a collection of essays: Jessurun d’Oliveira, H.U. (ed.), Ontjoodst door de wetenschap. De wetenschappelijke en menselijke integriteit van Arie de Froe onder de bezetting (Amsterdam University Press 2015)Google Scholar.

37 To enforce its arguments the report was accompanied by an album of pictures of Sephardic Jews, produced by my father who was a professional photographer. It tended to show the aristocratic ‘unJewishness’ of the persons portrayed.

38 Kappers, C.U. Ariëns, An introduction to the Anthropology of the Near East in recent and ancient times (Noord-Hollandsche Uitgeversmaatischappij 1937)Google Scholar. My aunt, Elsa d’Oliveira, assisted him in his measurements of Portuguese Jews in Amsterdam.

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