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EUROPEAN UNION

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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BREXIT

Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don’t want to return home

The majority of Britons who live in the EU, Norway, Iceland or Switzerland and are protected under the Brexit agreement feel European and intend to remain in Europe permanently, but many have concerns about travel problems, a new survey reveals.

Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don't want to return home

The research also shows that problems exist and “travel is where most issues relating to the new status currently occur”. For instance, border officials are still stamping passports of UK citizens with residence rights under the EU UK withdrawal agreement, even though they shouldn’t.

“There is constant confusion around passport stamping. I was ‘stamped in’ to France on a short trip… but could not find anyway to be ‘stamped out’ again. I think I can only spend 90 days in other EU countries, but have no idea how anyone can check or enforce that – until someone decides to try. It’s a mess,” was one of the answers left in an open question.

“Every time I go through a Schengen border control, I need to provide both my passport and Aufenthaltstitel card [resident permit in Germany] and watch to check that they don’t stamp my passport. As I am currently travelling a lot that’s been 20-odd times this year…” another respondent said.

The survey was carried out by Professor Tanja Bueltmann, historian of migration and diaspora at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, between October and November 2022. About 1,139 UK citizens replied.

Of these, 80 per cent found acquiring their new status easy or very easy, 60.7 per cent feel their rights are secure, while 39.3 per cent have concerns about their status going forward.

Staying permanently

More than three quarters (76.6 per cent) of respondents said they plan to live permanently in the EU or the other countries of the European Economic Area and Switzerland. In fact, 65.7 per cent said that Brexit has increased the likelihood of this choice.

For some, the decision is linked to the difficulty to bring non-British family members to the UK under new, stricter immigration rules.

“My German wife and I decided we no longer wanted to live in UK post Brexit referendum. In particular, we were affected by the impact of immigration law […] We cannot now return to UK on retirement as I cannot sponsor her on my pension. We knew it was a one-way journey. Fortunately, I could revive an application for German citizenship,” was a testimony.

“My husband is a US citizen and getting him a visa for the UK was near impossible due to my low income as a freelance journalist. We realized under EU law, moving to an EU country was easier. We settled on Austria as we had both lived there before… we could speak some German, and we like the mountains,” said another respondent.

Professor Bueltmann noted that the loss of free movement rights in the EU could be a factor too in the decision of many to stay where they are.

Citizenship and representation

Among those who decided to stay, 38.2 per cent are either applying or planning to apply for a citizenship and 28.6 per cent are thinking about it.

A key finding of the research, Bueltmann said, is that the vast majority of British citizens do not feel politically represented. Some 60 per cent of respondents said they feel unrepresented and another 30 per cent not well represented.

Another issue is that less than half (47.5 per cent) trust the government of their country of residence, while a larger proportion (62 per cent) trust the European Union. Almost all (95.6 per cent) said they do not trust the UK government.

Feeling European

The survey highlights the Brexit impacts on people’s identity too. 82.6 per cent of respondents said they see themselves as European, a higher proportion than those identifying as British (68.9 per cent).

“Brexit has really left me unsure of what my identity is. I don’t feel British, and I certainly don’t identify with the mindset of a lot of British people who live there. Yet, I am not Danish either. So, I don’t really know anymore!” said one of the participants in the survey.

Professor Bueltmann said the survey “demonstrates that Brexit impacts continue to evolve: this didn’t just stop because the transition period was over or a deadline for an application had been reached. Consequently, Brexit continues to shape the lives and experiences of British citizens in the EU/EEA and Switzerland in substantial, sometimes life-altering, ways.”

Considering the results of the study, Professor Bueltmann recommends policy makers in the EU and the UK to address the issue of lack of representation, for instance creating a joint UK-EU citizens’ stakeholder forum.

The report also recommends the UK government to rebuild trust with British citizens in the EU introducing voting rights for life and changing immigration rules to allow British-European families to return more easily. 

This article was prepared in cooperation with Europe Street News.

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