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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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REVEALED: Countries fear non-EU travellers face delays under new EES border checks

A number of countries in Europe's Schengen area admit they fear delays and insufficient time to test the process ahead of new, more rigorous EU border checks that will be introduced next year, a new document reveals.

REVEALED: Countries fear non-EU travellers face delays under new EES border checks

Schengen countries are tightening up security at the external borders with the introduction of a new digital system (EES) to record the entry and exit of non-EU citizens in May 2023.

The EES will enable the automatic scanning of passports replacing manual stamping by border guards. It will register the person’s name, type of the travel document, biometric data (fingerprints and facial images) and the date and place of entry and exit. The data will be kept in a centralised database on a rolling three-year basis that is re-set at each entry. 

What the EES is intended to do is increase border security, including the enforcement of the 90-day short-stay limit for tourists and visitors.

EU citizens and third-country nationals who reside in a country of the Schengen area will not be subject to such checks as long as they can prove residency in an EU country however they will still be caught up in any delays at passport control if the new system as many fear, causes longer processing times.

READ ALSO: Foreigners living in EU not covered by new EES border checks

But given its scale, the entry into operation of the system has been raising concerns on many fronts, including the readiness of the physical and digital infrastructure, and the time required for border checks, which could subsequently cause massive queues at borders.

A document on the state of preparations was distributed last week by the secretariat of the EU Council (the EU institution representing member states) and published by Statewatch, a non-profit organisation that monitors civil liberties.

The paper contains the responses from 21 countries to a questionnaire about potential impacts on passenger flows, the infrastructure put in place and the possibility of a gradual introduction of the new system over a number of months.

This is what certain the countries have responded. Responses from Denmark, Spain and Sweden do not appear in the report but the answers from other countries will be relevant for readers in those countries.

READ ALSO: What the EU’s new EES border check system means for travel

‘Double processing time’

Austria and Germany are the most vocal in warning that passport processing times will increase when the EES will become operational.

“The additional tasks resulting from the EES regulation will lead to a sharp increase in process times”, which are expected to “double compared to the current situation,” Austrian authorities say. “This will also affect the waiting times at border crossing points (in Austria, the six international airports),” the document continues.

“Furthermore, border control will become more complicated since in addition to the distinction between visa-exempt and visa-required persons, we will also have to differentiate between EES-required and EES-exempt TCN [third country nationals], as well as between registered and unregistered TCN in EES,” Austrian officials note.

Based on an analysis of passenger traffic carried out with the aviation industry, German authorities estimate that checking times will “increase significantly”.

France expects to be ready for the introduction of the EES “in terms of passenger routes, training and national systems,” but admits that “fluidity remains a concern” and “discussions are continuing… to make progress on this point”.

Italy is also “adapting the border operational processes… in order to contain the increased process time and ensure both safety and security”.

“Despite many arguments for the introduction of automated border control systems based on the need for efficiency, the document makes clear that the EES will substantially increase border crossing times,” Statewatch argues.

‘Stable service unlikely by May 2023’

The border infrastructure is also being adapted for collecting and recording the data, with several countries planning for automated checks. So what will change in practice?

France will set up self-service kiosks in airports, where third-country nationals can pre-register their biometric data and personal information before being directed to the booth for verification with the border guard. The same approach will be adopted for visitors arriving by bus, while tablet devices such as iPads will be used for the registration of car passengers at land and sea borders.

Germany also plans to install self-service kiosks at the airports to “pre-capture” biometric data before border checks. But given the little time for testing the full process, German authorities say “a stable working EES system seems to be unlikely in May 2023.”

Austria intends to install self-service kiosks at the airports of Vienna and Salzburg “in the course of 2023”. Later these will be linked to existing e-gates enabling a “fully automated border crossing”. Austrian authorities also explain that airport operators are seeking to provide more space for kiosks and queues, but works will not be completed before the system is operational.

Italy is increasing the “equipment of automated gates in all the main  airport” and plans to install, at least in the first EES phase, about 600 self-service kiosks at the airports of Rome Fiumicino, Milan Malpensa, Venice and in those with “significant volumes of extra-Schengen traffic,” such as Bergamo, Naples, Bologna and Turin.

Switzerland, which is not an EU member but is part of the Schengen area, is also installing self-service kiosks to facilitate the collection of data. Norway, instead, will have “automated camera solutions operated by the border guards”, but will consider self-service options only after the EES is in operation.

Gradual introduction?

One of the possibilities still in consideration is the gradual introduction of the new system. The European Commission has proposed a ‘progressive approach’ that would allow the creation of “incomplete” passenger files for 9 months following the EES entry into operation, and continuing passport stamping for 3 months.

According to the responses, Italy is the only country favourable to this option. For Austria and France this “could result in more confusion for border guards and travellers”. French officials also argue that a lack of biometric data will “present a risk for the security of the Schengen area”.

France suggested to mitigate with “flexibility” the EES impacts in the first months of its entry into service. In particular, France calls for the possibility to not create EES files for third-country nationals who entered the Schengen area before the system becomes operational, leaving this task to when they return later.

This would “significantly ease the pressure” on border guards “during the first three months after entry into service,” French authorities said.

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