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COMPARE: Which EU countries grant citizenship to the most people? 

Certain countries in Europe grant citizenship to foreign residents far more than others. Here's a look at the latest numbers.

COMPARE: Which EU countries grant citizenship to the most people? 
The European flag with stars that woble is pictured at the European Commission headquarters building, in Brussels on October 13, 2021. (Photo by Aris Oikonomou / AFP)

The number of people who were granted citizenship in a European Union country has risen and fallen in the past few years, a flux often driven by global events. 

Brexit, for instance, is likely to have played a role when the 27 EU countries recorded 844,000  ‘new citizens’ in 2016, a number that reached almost a million if the applications for UK citizenship are taken into account. 

The pandemic might have had an impact too, as fewer people were able to move across borders compared to the past.

According to the latest data by the EU statistical office Eurostat, in 2020 EU member states granted citizenship to 729,000 people, an increase from 706,400 in 2019 and 607,113 ten years earlier (2011).

The vast majority, around 620,600 or 85 percent, were previously citizens of a non-EU country, while 92,200 (13%) were nationals of another EU member state. Only Hungary and Luxembourg granted a majority of new citizenships to other EU nationals (67% and 63% respectively). Some 7.9 percent of people acquiring citizenship in the EU in 2020 were previously stateless.

Which countries grant most new citizenships? 

Each country has different rules about naturalisation, for example with regard to residence requirements, dual citizenship or family ties. 

Five countries account for almost three quarters (74%) of new citizenships granted in 2020: Italy, Spain, Germany, France and Sweden. 

Italy granted citizenship to 131,800 individuals, some 18 percent of the EU’s total. The Italian statistical office Istat noted that 80 percent were resident in Italy, an increase by 26% compared to 2019, while citizenships by marriage declined by 16.5 percent. The biggest proportion of ‘new citizens’ were from Albania, Morocco and Brazil, while Romanians were the largest group among EU nationals, followed by Polish and Bulgarians. 

Spain granted citizenship to 126,300 people, or 17 percent of the EU’s total, an increase by 27,300 – the largest in Europe – over 2019. Romanians were again the largest group of new Spanish passport holders among other EU nationals, followed by Italians and Bulgarians. The largest groups of new citizens were from Morocco, Colombia and Ecuador. 

Third in the ranking, Germany granted citizenship to 111,200 people, some 15 percent of the EU’s total, but 20,900 fewer than the previous year. The three largest groups acquiring German passport among non-EU nationals were from Turkey, Syria and Iraq. Britons were fourth.

Germany usually does not allow dual citizenship for non-EU nationals, but made an exception for British citizens until 31st December 2020, the end of the post-Brexit transition period. Although Germany’s new government is to change the law to allow for dual citizenship for third-country nationals.

Romanians, Polish and Italians were the largest groups of EU citizens naturalised in Germany in 2020. 

France granted 12 percent of new citizenships in the EU: 86,500 people in 2020.

In absolute terms, this was the largest decrease in the EU, with 23,300 fewer people naturalising as French than in 2019.

Among non-EU nationals, Moroccans, Algerians and Tunisians were the largest groups acquiring French citizenship. Britons were fifth. Romanians, Portuguese and Italians were the biggest groups from the EU. France, together with Germany, has a lower naturalisation rate of foreigners than the EU average (1.7 and 1.1  per 100 foreign citizens respectively compared to the EU average of 2). 

With 80,200 new citizenships, or 11 percent of the EU’s total, Sweden recorded a growth of 16,000 compared to 2019 and was the country with the highest number of new citizens in relation to the total population.

Sweden is also the country with the highest naturalisation rate (8.6 per hundred foreign nationals compared to 2/100 across the EU). People from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan were the largest groups naturalizing in Sweden among non-EU nationals, and Britons were fifth. Polish, Finnish and Romanians were the largest groups among EU citizens. 

As for the other countries covered by The Local, Denmark granted citizenship to more than 7,000 people, quadrupling the number who became Danish in 2019. The largest groups of new citizens originally from outside the EU were from the UK, Pakistan and Ukraine and, within the EU, from Poland, Germany and Romania. 

Austria, which allows dual citizenship in rare circumstances, recorded 9,000 new citizens, with the largest groups from Bosnia Herzegovina, Serbia and Turkey (non-EU) and Romania, Germany and Hungary (EU). 

Overall, the largest groups acquitting citizenship in EU countries in 2020 were Moroccans (68,900 persons), Syrians (50,200), Albanians (40,500), Romanians (28,700) and Brazilians (24,100). 

Britons were the first non-EU group acquiring citizenship in Denmark, Ireland and Luxembourg and among the top three in Cyprus and Latvia. However the number of Britons acquiring citizenship of an EU country decreased by 13,900 compared to the previous year.

Naturalisation in an EU member state automatically grants EU citizenship and therefore rights such as free movement and the ability to vote in that country as well as in local and European elections around the bloc.

In terms of gender, women were more likely than men to acquire citizenship (51 percent versus 49 percent), except for Bulgaria, Italy, Lithuania, Hungary, the Netherlands, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia and Sweden. 

The median age of persons acquiring citizenship was 33 years. 36 percent of ‘new citizens’ were younger than 25, 42 percent were aged 25 to 44, and 23 % were children below the age of 15.

This article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK. 

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TRAVEL NEWS

EXPLAINED: Which Schengen area countries have border controls in place and why?

Borders within Europe's Schengen area are meant to be open but several countries have checks in place but are they legal and will they be forced to scrap them? Claudia Delpero explains the history and what's at stake.

EXPLAINED: Which Schengen area countries have border controls in place and why?

The European Court of Justice has recently said that checks introduced by Austria at the borders with Hungary and Slovenia during the refugee crisis of 2015 may not be compatible with EU law.

Austria has broken the rules of the Schengen area, where people can travel freely, by extending temporary controls beyond 6 months without a new “serious threat”.

But Austria is not the only European country having restored internal border checks for more than six months.

Which countries have controls in place and what does the EU Court decision mean for them? 

When can EU countries re-introduce border checks?

The Schengen area, taken from the name of the Luxembourgish town where the convention abolishing EU internal border controls was signed, includes 26 states: the EU countries except for Ireland, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Croatia and Romania, plus Iceland, Norway, Lichtenstein and Switzerland, which are not EU members.

The Schengen Borders Code sets the rules on when border controls are permitted. It says that checks can be temporarily restored where there is a “serious threat to public policy or internal security”, from the organisation of a major sport event to a terrorist attack such as those seen in Paris in November 2015.

However, these checks should be a “last resort” measure, should be limited to the period “strictly necessary” to respond to the threat and not last more than 6 months.

In exceptional circumstances, if the functioning of the entire Schengen area is at risk, EU governments can recommend that one or more countries reintroduce internal border controls for a maximum of two years. The state concerned can then continue to impose checks for another six months if a new threat emerges. 

Which countries keep border checks in place?

Countries reintroducing border controls have to notify the European Commission and other member states providing a reason for their decision. 

Based on the list of notifications, these countries currently have controls in place at least at some of their borders: 

Norway – until 11 November 2022 at ferry connections with Denmark, Germany and Sweden. These measures have been in place since 2015 due to terrorist threats or the arrival of people seeking international protection and have sometimes extended to all borders.

Austria – until November 2022 11th, since 2015, at land borders with Hungary and with Slovenia due to risks related to terrorism and organised crime and “the situation at the external EU borders”. 

Germany – until November 11th 2022, since November 12th 2021, at the land border with Austria “due to the situation at the external EU borders”.

Sweden – until November 11th 2022, since 2017, can concern all borders due to terrorist and public security threats and “shortcomings” at the EU external borders. 

Denmark – until November 11th 2022, since 2016, can concern all internal borders due to terrorist and organised criminality threats or migration.

France – until October 31st 2022 since 2015, due to terrorist threats and other events, including, since 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic.

Estonia – until May 21st 2022, from April 22nd 2022, at the border with Latvia “to facilitate the entry and reception of people arriving from Ukraine”.

Norway, Austria, Germany and France also said they are operating checks on non-EU citizens. 

Can Schengen rules survive?

Despite the exceptional nature of these measures, there have been continuous disruptions to the free movement of people in the Schengen area in the past 15 years. 

Since 2006, there have been 332 notifications of border controls among Schengen countries, with increasing frequency from 2015. In addition, 17 countries unilaterally restored border controls at the start of the pandemic. 

In December 2021, the Commission proposed to reform the system to ensure that border controls remain an exception rather than becoming the norm. 

According to the proposals, countries should consider alternatives to border controls, such as police cooperation and targeted checks in border regions. 

When controls are restored, governments should take measures to limit their impacts on border areas, especially on the almost 1.7 million people who live in a Schengen state but work in another, and on the internal market, especially guaranteeing the transit of “essential” goods. 

Countries could also conclude bilateral agreements among themselves for the readmission of people crossing frontiers irregularly, the Commission suggested. 

If border controls have been in place for 6 months, any notification on their extension should include a risk assessment, and if restrictions are in place for 18 months, the Commission will have to evaluate their necessity. Temporary border controls should not exceed 2 years “unless for very specific circumstances,” the Commission added. 

At a press conference on April 27th, European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said the EU Court ruling about Austria is in line with these proposals.

“What the court says is that member states have to comply with the time limit that is in the current legislation. Of course we can propose another time limit in the legislation… and the court also says that it’s necessary for member states, if they would like to prolong [the border controls] to really do the risk assessment on whether it’s really necessary… and that’s exactly what’s in our proposal on the Schengen Border Code.”

Criticism from organisations representing migrants

It is now for the European Parliament and EU Council to discuss and adopt the new rules.

A group of migration organisations, including Caritas Europe, the Danish Refugee Council, Oxfam International and the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM) have raised concerns and called on the EU institutions to modify the Commission proposals.

In particular, they said, the “discretionary nature” of controls in border regions risk to “disproportionately target racialised communities” and “practically legitimise ethnic and racial profiling and expose people to institutional and police abuse.”

Research from the EU Fundamental Rights Agency in 2021, the groups noted, shows that people from an ‘ethnic minority, Muslim, or not heterosexual’ are disproportionately affected by police stops.

The organisations also criticize the definition of people crossing borders irregularly as a threat and a new procedure to “transfer people apprehended… in the vicinity of the border area” to the authorities of the country where it is assumed they came from without any individual assessment. 

The article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.

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