We love Europe, so give us the passports to prove it

The 16 million Brits who voted to stay in the EU could soon be deprived of their European citizenship. EU countries should let them keep it, says Swedish learner Stuart Bonar.

We love Europe, so give us the passports to prove it
Brits are set to lose their EU citizenship, but Stuart Bonar is asking Europe to help those who want to keep it. Photo: Christopher Elison
At 11.59pm each New Year’s Eve, Britain turns to Big Ben. As it strikes 12, the bells ring out, fireworks light the sky and we welcome the New Year. But on some future date, currently unknown, those bells will herald not the fresh start of a new year, but the dawn of a grim, friendless Brexit future.
At a stroke, the opportunities the EU gives UK nationals to live and work across Europe vanish. I’m a Swedish learner and Brexit throws into massive doubt the ambition I have to live and work in Sweden.
Tough, that’s what you voted for, some may say. But many didn’t. The country is deeply, bitterly divided. 17 million voted Leave, but 16 million voted Remain. 32 million didn’t have a vote, or didn’t use it. But those 17 million voters are taking all 65 million out of the EU nonetheless.
And for many of us, this is a tragedy. To us, being European is as important as being British, perhaps even more so. We identify with the EU. We believe that we’re stronger standing together, not broken up and bickering.
Stuart Bonar. Photo: Private
Some Brits have escape routes. There are reports of big jumps in applications to become Swedes, Danes and Italians. Friends are rediscovering their Irish ancestry, others have already collected new passports from Germany and Cyprus.
But many pro-European Brits – me included – don’t have a foreign grandparent who entitles us to citizenship of another EU country. We face being left stranded here in Brexit Britain, with emboldened xenophobes and racists.
But what I do have is an idea. At the moment, people are EU citizens if they are nationals of an EU country. My idea is that the EU simply uncouples that. It could allow individuals of countries leaving the EU to become European citizens directly, by choice.
You’d have to opt in, be able to prove you’re pro-European, maybe have to pass a citizenship test. It would allow the UK to leave the EU and anti-Europeans to go with it, while letting pro-Europeans stay and keep their freedom of movement.
I put this idea forward in a blog post earlier this month. A few tweets and Facebook posts later and it’s reached over 100,000 people, with 8,700 supporters signing up.
But what’s in it for the rest of Europe? With a big member leaving there’s a risk the EU looks to be in decline, that its 12 stars are setting not rising. What better way to give Europe renewed zip and energy than footage of smiling Brits waving burgundy passports for the TV cameras, like the first Apple customers to get their hands on a new iPhone?
And with British politics turning to the hard right, it will be the young and educated who want out. They were Remain’s strongest backers, and they’re exactly the people the EU wants and needs. They’ll be straight across the Channel, with ambition, energy and creativity bursting out of their Sandqvist backpacks.
So, what do you think? Are you a Brit who needs a lifeline, or a fellow European willing to throw one to us? Then sign up.
Stuart Bonar is a public affairs advisor who lives in London and Devon, England. On Twitter, he's @StuartBonar, and with his partner he runs the Campaign to Remain page on Facebook.


How Europe’s population is changing and what the EU is doing about it

The populations of countries across Europe are changing, with some increasing whilst others are falling. Populations are also ageing meaning the EU is having to react to changing demographics.

How Europe's population is changing and what the EU is doing about it

After decades of growth, the population of the European Union decreased over the past two years mostly due to the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The latest data from the EU statistical office Eurostat show that the EU population was 446.8 million on 1 January 2022, 172,000 fewer than the previous year. On 1 January 2020, the EU had a population of 447.3 million.

This trend is because, in 2020 and 2021 the two years marked by the crippling pandemic, there have been more deaths than births and the negative natural change has been more significant than the positive net migration.

But there are major differences across countries. For example, in numerical terms, Italy is the country where the population has decreased the most, while France has recorded the largest increase.

What is happening and how is the EU reacting?

In which countries is the population growing?

In 2021, there were almost 4.1 million births and 5.3 million deaths in the EU, so the natural change was negative by 1.2 million (more broadly, there were 113,000 more deaths in 2021 than in 2020 and 531,000 more deaths in 2020 than in 2019, while the number of births remained almost the same).

Net migration, the number of people arriving in the EU minus those leaving, was 1.1 million, not enough to compensate.

A population growth, however, was recorded in 17 countries. Nine (Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, France, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands and Sweden) had both a natural increase and positive net migration.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: Five things to know about Germany’s foreign population

In eight EU countries (the Czech Republic, Germany, Estonia, Spain, Lithuania, Austria, Portugal and Finland), the population increased because of positive net migration, while the natural change was negative.

The largest increase in absolute terms was in France (+185,900). The highest natural increase was in Ireland (5.0 per 1,000 persons), while the biggest growth rate relative to the existing population was recorded in Luxembourg, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta (all above 8.0 per 1,000 persons).

In total, 22 EU Member States had positive net migration, with Luxembourg (13.2 per 1 000 persons), Lithuania (12.4) and Portugal (9.6) topping the list.

Births and deaths in the EU from 1961 to 2021 (Eurostat)

Where is the population declining?

On the other hand, 18 EU countries had negative rates of natural change, with deaths outnumbering births in 2021.

Ten of these recorded a population decline. In Bulgaria, Italy, Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia population declined due to a negative natural change, while net migration was slightly positive.

In Croatia, Greece, Latvia, Romania and Slovakia, the decrease was both by negative natural change and negative net migration.

READ ALSO: Italian class sizes set to shrink as population falls further

The largest fall in population was reported in Italy, which lost over a quarter of a million (-253,100).

The most significant negative natural change was in Bulgaria (-13.1 per 1,000 persons), Latvia (-9.1), Lithuania (-8.7) and Romania (-8.2). On a proportional basis, Croatia and Bulgaria recorded the biggest population decline (-33.1 per 1,000 persons).

How is the EU responding to demographic change?

From 354.5 million in 1960, the EU population grew to 446.8 million on 1 January 2022, an increase of 92.3 million. If the growth was about 3 million persons per year in the 1960s, it slowed to about 0.7 million per year on average between 2005 and 2022, according to Eurostat.

The natural change was positive until 2011 and turned negative in 2012 when net migration became the key factor for population growth. However, in 2020 and 2021, this no longer compensated for natural change and led to a decline.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: One in four Austrian residents now of foreign origin

Over time, says Eurostat, the negative natural change is expected to continue given the ageing of the population if the fertility rate (total number of children born to each woman) remains low.

This poses questions for the future of the labour market and social security services, such as pensions and healthcare.

The European Commission estimates that by 2070, 30.3 per cent of the EU population will be 65 or over compared to 20.3 per cent in 2019, and 13.2 per cent is projected to be 80 or older compared to 5.8 per cent in 2019.

The number of people needing long-term care is expected to increase from 19.5 million in 2016 to 23.6 million in 2030 and 30.5 million in 2050.

READ ALSO: How foreigners are changing Switzerland

However, demographic change impacts different countries and often regions within the same country differently.

When she took on the Presidency of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen appointed Dubravka Šuica, a Croatian politician, as Commissioner for Democracy and Demography to deal with these changes.

Among measures in the discussion, in January 2021, the Commission launched a debate on Europe’s ageing society, suggesting steps for higher labour market participation, including more equality between women and men and longer working lives.

In April, the Commission proposed measures to make Europe more attractive for foreign workers, including simplifying rules for non-EU nationals who live on a long-term basis in the EU. These will have to be approved by the European Parliament and the EU Council.

In the fourth quarter of this year, the Commission also plans to present a communication on dealing with ‘brain drain’ and mitigate the challenges associated with population decline in regions with low birth rates and high net emigration.

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