Turks and Moroccans top list of new EU citizens

BRUSSELS (Reuters Life!) - Turkey may be struggling in its longstanding bid to join the European Union but Turks still make up one of the largest groups of new citizens in EU countries, figures released on Tuesday show.

The European statistics agency Eurostat said 50,000 Turks became EU citizens in 2008, the latest year for which data is available, down slightly from 55,100 in 2007. Moroccans topped the list with 64,000 becoming EU citizens in 2008.

The figures reinforce how EU countries remain a popular destination for migrants and how many of them, particularly from Turkey, North Africa and Latin America, are keen to stay long enough to become citizens of countries in the bloc.

In total, 696,000 people became new EU citizens in 2008, slightly down on the 707,000 who took citizenship oaths in 2007.

Turkey, which began talks to join the European Union five years ago, has sent millions of people to live and work in the EU since the 1960s, mainly in Germany, and it is those migrants and their offspring who are now becoming citizens.

As well as figures on where the EU’s new citizens are originating from, Eurostat released data on the EU countries that have granted the most number of new citizenships -- an indication of their openness to new migrants.

Britain, which this week put a cap on the number of skilled non-EU migrants allowed to enter the country, was one of the most generous granters of new citizenship, with 129,000 people becoming new British and EU citizens in 2008.

People originally from India, Pakistan and Iraq were the biggest recipients of British citizenship.

France, which historically has insisted on the cultural integration of new migrants, granted more people citizenship in 2008 than any other EU country, at 137,000 people, mostly to people from Morocco, Algeria and Turkey.

Figures on citizenship awarded to people from Afghanistan and Iraq reveal some of the changing trends that have taken place since the wars there began in 2001 and 2003 respectively.

In 2003, a little more than 8,000 Afghans were granted EU citizenship, a figure that rose to more than 10,000 by 2008. As for Iraqis, nearly 12,000 were given EU citizenship in 2003, a figure rose sharply to more than 20,000 in 2008. (Editing by Paul Casciato)