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Britons living in Germany and elsewhere in Europe go for dual citizenship to guard against Brexit

Britons living in Germany and elsewhere in Europe go for dual citizenship to guard against Brexit
EU Budget Commissioner Guenther Oettinger unveils his proposal for the European Union's long-term budget post Brexit at a May 2 news conference in Brussels. (Stephanie Lecocq / EPA/Shutterstock)

To Dale Carr, an English shopkeeper who moved to West Berlin 40 years ago, a surge in Britons seeking German citizenship makes perfect sense even if it would have been difficult to imagine years ago.

Carr applied for German citizenship after her compatriots narrowly voted in favor of Britain exiting from the 28-nation European Union in June 2016. Germany had become her home decades ago after she visited a friend and decided to stay.

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"It's a wonderful place to live," Carr, 65, said in a recent interview. "And, unlike Britain, it's inside the EU and staying there."

Among the effects of Britain's pending divorce from the EU, known as Brexit and expected to be complete in March 2019, has been an increase in the numbers of Britons obtaining German passports. Although the numbers are modest for Germany, at fewer than 8,000 during the last year, they represent a tripling of such moves by the British to obtain citizenship, a practice also happening in other European countries.

Analysts say more Britons living outside the United Kingdom are likely to obtain citizenship in other countries — dual citizenship is allowed in Germany — as the planned break becomes closer to reality. They will want to keep their ability to move and work freely within the EU regardless of whatever arrangements Britain is able to negotiate with other countries, analysts say.

An estimated 100,000 British citizens live in Germany; about 1.2 million live in the 27 EU countries outside Britain.

"If I were British, I'd be trying to get a German passport or one from an EU country now too," said Tanja Boerzel, a political science professor at Berlin's Free University.

Boerzel said it is a shame that Britain, which fought valiantly during World War II to preserve democracy and values that were under siege by Nazi Germany, is preparing to leave the bloc of nations.

"Unfortunately, that history of Britain fighting for these values got lost somewhere in the whole Brexit debate," she said. "It was only about money and who pays whom which amounts. So if you ask me, it's only the logical conclusion that it's only material reasons now driving Brits to get German and EU passports. It fits."

Germany's federal statistics office announced last week that 7,493 Britons were naturalized in 2017. Ostensibly, the still-modest numbers barely caused a ripple in a country of 82 million that includes about 10.6 million foreigners. But it was a nearly three-fold increase from the 2,865 British nationals who obtained German citizenship in 2016 and more than 10 times the number who did so in 2015 — 622.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged Britons to apply for German citizenship to avoid disruptions or uncertainties in their lives after Brexit.

At a conference in Bavaria last year, a British entrepreneur who built up a business with 20 employees in Germany over the last 25 years asked her if he had to fear the German police knocking on his door at 6:30 a.m. one day to take him away.

"Maybe after living in Germany for 25 years it would be worth trying [to get a German passport] so that you'll be on the safe side," she said. "But I don't think you need to worry about being shipped back to Birmingham."

It is not particularly hard for Britons — or any other citizens of EU countries — to obtain citizenship in Germany, which has the bloc's dominant economy and a worsening shortage of skilled labor. Any EU citizens who have lived in Germany for eight years are eligible — provided they can prove they can speak German. Also eligible is anyone who has been married to a German for two years and has lived in Germany for three years.

"It's ironic that [more than] 70 years ago Germany was the worst place on the Earth to be, a terrible country doing terrible things and yet now it's one of the best countries there is to live in — and we all want to become German," Carr said.

In some cases, a history of war and rivalry between Britain and Germany can make people uncomfortable about dual citizenship or any other form of relationship, but that's normally not what happens with Britons living in Germany, analysts and residents said.

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"Yes, there's still a lot of that kind of sentiment in the U.K.," said Peter Rotheram, 50, a sound engineer from Britain who moved to Berlin 20 years ago to be with his girlfriend at the time and got his German passport recently. "A friend of mine in the U.K. said he doesn't like Germany and never wants to visit Germany because his grandfather fought in the war and he thinks they're aggressive and belligerent. He's got this view of Germany and Germans and it's probably never going to change."

Rotheram, however, said his point of view has changed during his time in Germany, including dropping some of the historical baggage.

"When I see a German flag flying now, I feel pride. It's a great country," he said. "Thanks to Germany, I've got a life in the EU now and can work wherever I want in the EU."

Rotheram said that as much as he has become a fan of Germany's powerful national soccer team, he still gets goosebumps whenever his beloved England team is playing.

"My heart is still English even though I've got a German passport," he said. "When I first got here, I didn't want Germany to win. But now, as long as they're not playing England, I'll be cheering for Germany. It's my country now too."

Kirschbaum is a special correspondent.

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