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Eurostat statistics show naturalisation rates in the EU

Every year Eurostat, the statistical bureau of the European Union, publishes statistics on citizenship matters in the different EU member states. The most recent data collected regarding the acquisition of citizenship in the member states show a 17% decrease in 2017 compared to 2016. It also follows from the data that there is relatively little interest for citizenship of an EU member state by those who already hold citizenship of another member state, as 82% of the new citizens had previously been citizens of non-EU countries – with a quarter coming from just five countries: Morocco, Albania, India, Turkey and Pakistan.

By not explaining the term “citizenship acquisition”, Eurostat’s analysis is not easy to interpret. The problem of terminology in citizenship matters has in fact been a recurrent theme in the literature, reason why the GLOBALCIT Observatory dedicated a separate glossary explaining the most important concepts. (Eurostat in fact refers to the Observatory, yet under its old name: EUDO Citizenship Observatory.) The Observatory, using a detailed typology, has also shown that “citizenship acquisition” is actually too broad a category and can be broken down into 28 separate grounds for acquisition.

For this article we interpreted “acquisition” to mean “naturalisation” because citizenship acquired at birth (either by ius soli or ius sanguinis) is obviously not covered by the Eurostat data. Our choice for the term naturalisation is confirmed by Eurostat when besides measuring new citizenship acquisitions in relation to the total population, it calculates the numbers using a “naturalisation rate”, described as the “ratio between the number of persons who acquired the citizenship of a country during a calendar year and the stock of foreign residents in the same country at the beginning of the year”. However, Eurostat warns against the term “naturalisation rate” being misleading: not only does it include all modes of acquisitions and not just naturalisations, it should also not be interpreted as a demographic rate since the denominator includes all foreigners eligible for naturalisation and not the relevant population. Making matters even more complicated regarding the “naturalisation rate”, Eurostat stresses that “it is important to note that changes in naturalisation rates can also be attributed to changes in the non-national population and in the way the non-national population is measured”.

The concept of “naturalisation rate” being difficult to grasp, it should be easier to focus on citizenship acquisition in absolute numbers. Here again, however, it is not easy to interpret the data. Eurostat reports that the 825,400 persons who acquired citizenship of an EU member state in 2017 had “their usual residence in the territory of the EU”. However, no definition of residence is given and it is not completely certain that the numbers exclude applications from outside the EU or based on reacquisition policies. Future Citizen Institute previously discussed several of these arrangements, for example the Spanish and Romanian policies regarding Sephardic Jews and Moldovans respectively, the compensatory citizenship and long-distance naturalisation policies that can be found in many EU member states, and different kinds of dual citizenship policies.

The statistics collected by Eurostat for the EU-28 for the period 2009-2017 show that the yearly naturalisation numbers oscillate between 771,773 and 994,799. While the numbers for some countries are relatively stable, others show substantial differences (225,793 persons in 2013 compared to 66,498 persons in 2017 in for example Spain).

While Eurostat does not explain any of these differences, which may be caused by different national measuring techniques, regularization programmes that led to a sharp and sudden increase of the number of immigrants eligible for naturalisation, administrative backlog, instrumental motives on the part of applicants etc., the Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX) partly explains naturalisation rates in the EU and a selected number of other countries (including the US, Japan and Australia).

Scoring the naturalisation policies of countries from “favourable” to “critically unfavourable” based on their eligibility criteria, Portugal and Latvia obtained the highest and lowest scores with 86/100 and 17/100 respectively. Like Eurostat, MIPEX only seems to cover resident migrants and its analysis shows how national reforms can have a major impact on the number of naturalisations. This partly explains why naturalisation rates rose dramatically in some countries and dropped in others in recent years. Unfortunately, it does not fully explain why countries that are smaller and score lower in the MIPEX index than others have granted more naturalisations. Thus, while Italy has less inhabitants than Germany and scores 50/100 in the MIPEX index compared to Germany’s score of 72/100, Italy has been granting more naturalisations than Germany in the last couple of years (for example 146,605 compared to 115,421 in 2017).

Also, the picture changes if we look at relative numbers. The top five is then composed of smaller countries, with Luxembourg and Sweden granting citizenship to 8,4 and 6,9 foreigners per 1000 of their own nationals in 2017, while this is only 2,4 per 1000 for Italy. The resistance by Central and Eastern European countries to immigration is also reflected in their naturalisation numbers: none of them granted citizenship to more than 1 foreigner per every 1000 of its own citizens in 2017.

Author: Dr. Olivier Vonk

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