Citizenship tests in the EU compared

Greece is one of the most recent EU countries to set up an online multi-choice citizenship test. Other EU countries, like Germany, France and Spain, have had such tests for a number of years, so these citizenship tests can be compared.

All the tests, including the UK one, are supposed to present the essence of the national story and values. As Greece is acknowledged to be the founder of Western civilisation, it is interesting to note how the new test is formulated, and compare these with those of other countries.

The new Citizenship test for Greece

Information in English about the new Greek test is as follows:

“The first Greek Citizenship test will be held on 16 May 2021 in eight cities across Greece: Athens, Thessaloniki, Larisa, Komotini, Ioannina, Patra, Tripoli and Iraklio. You can apply to sit the Greek Citizenship Exam via the Greek Government online platform. The exam fee is €250.”

The examination consists of four parts: Geography, History, Culture and Politics. There is a question bank available online. This is similar to the German one, which has a bank of 300 questions, of which 30 will be selected at random in each section for each candidate. However, what many candidates prefer is that answers are also available online for all possible questions so that these can be fixed firmly in the mind before the test. 

The Greek Government has begun to do this, but not all are yet available. Instead there is a glossy pdf document of 88 pages produced in 2010 that can be downloaded, which contains all the examinable material, divided into the sections.

Even without being a fluent reader of Greek, it can be seen that much more effort has been made at full colour visual presentation than is available in comparable European citizenship tests. Far more effort has been made with pictures and maps than in, say, the official study guide for “Life in the United Kingdom”.

Greece, with all its islands, has complicated geography, displayed in a map on page eight. Also there are many scenic pictures and photos of plants and animals, which are totally absent from the British official guide which contains colour pictures of Parliament, the currency and a military graveyard. However, the British guide does provide several hub and spoke graphics for concepts such as Law, which the Greek material does not. 

The Greek booklet contains some numerical information about the size of territories and populations which none of the other European tests do.  If one were to assess the tests with an educationist’s eye to which ‘intelligence’ each requires, only the Greek one requires visual, spatial and numerical intelligence.

Different European Citizenship tests compared

The differences between the tests in the various European countries reveal different national proclivities. The French, the Spanish, the British and the Greek tests are heavy on history and culture, with lists of the different epochs, and notable events or political leaders of each. The Germans do not bother with history further back than the twentieth century, but offer probing questions on the Nazi period as well as on the exact relationship of the various regions to the national government.

The German test is more regionalised than the others, with a set of questions for the candidate’s region.  This would help in the British one, as I found that, as a resident of Kent, I failed in questions such as the name of the Scottish magistrates courts and the name of a famous Northern Irish artist.

The problem with the history and culture type of test (as with the French and the British) is that the choices of significant events and people are contested. 

In the UK official study guide, 50 pages are entitled “a long and illustrious history”, but so concerned were some academic historians of the selection used in the Official UK guide, that they signed a petition on it to the government in 2020. 

The French tale of their history runs from the Lascaux caves to the treaty of Rome, with a mention of prominent persons such as Jeanne d’Arc, Henri IV, Molière, Napoleon of course, Victor Hugo etc. The problem with such a selection is that it can always be contested by those with an alternative view of history. 

The UK guide contains a list of famous British inventors: the French one has a picture of the Eiffel Tower and of Airbus. The UK potted history mentions Wilberforce and slavery: the French one names some famous immigrants.

How immigrants grasp national values

Some of the Citizenship tests reveal an awareness of the likely problems of the candidates who are mostly recent immigrants.  The German one has good questions on labour rights and discrimination. For the UK test there was a political decision to move away from questions to help immigrants navigate the benefits system and towards the more patriotic aim of that ‘Illustrious history’. 

All the tests have an underlying aim to examine how well the immigrant grasps underlying European values. The French, of course, can rely on the principles enunciated in the 1792 Revolution: liberty, equality and fraternity – to which they add the 1905 principle of ‘la Laïcité’ that separates church and state, and is the foundation of French secularisation of institutions. The German test is mainly based on civics – a good understanding how German government and law works.

The test should be regarded as part of a process, which includes language attainment, mostly at B1 level of the CEFR, although the Dutch allow only A2.

Unlike the other countries which go for the convenience of online multiple choice (MCQ) tests, the Dutch integrate language learning and cultural assimilation in 64 hours of classes, with portfolio assessment, which in my view is a better route to cultural assimilation than rote-learning of arbitrary facts online.

Satire on such Citizenship tests

The pub quiz aspects of these MCQ tests have been gleefully satirised online.

It has been pointed out in several countries that their own born citizens would struggle with some of the questions. In Germany the comedian Ozcan Cosar has staged his own version. In English, there are various attempts to nail the exact question which would pick out the fitting-in immigrant from the hopelessly out of place: one suggestion is to do with remembering the right day to put out the rubbish.  In Germany the suggestion is that the new immigrant must fit in with the speed of clearing purchases into your own bag at the cash-out. A recent English immigrant to Germany publishes her take on how to fit in.

Citizens of the EU

Finally on the serious point of how far these tests acknowledge that the new citizens are also now citizens of Europe: the UK Study Guide, even before Brexit, devoted only four lines on page 72 to the fact that the UK joined the EU. The French explain some of the rights that flowed from the Treaty of Rome, such as abortion rights and the abolition of the death penalty. Germany makes sure that its candidates show they know that Germany is part of the EU and how the government of the EU works.  The Greek brochure gives the EU pride of place on page 75 in the history of the modern era.