Why Some Brits Are Opting For Belgian Citizenship |The Republican News

Glynis Whiting holding her new Belgian passportImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES


Brussels is gripped with gossip about the forthcoming Brexit negotiations.

The rights of British citizens living there and elsewhere are still to be decided, but a handful of the 25,000 British people living in Belgium do not want to wait for the outcome and are applying for citizenship in their adopted home.

In her house in a smart Brussels suburb, British-born business consultant Glynis Whiting brandished her stiff, shiny, new Belgian passport.

“I went through customs in Germany with it recently and I thought: ‘This is me stating that I am a slightly different person than I was,'” she told me.

A resident of Belgium for two decades, she applied for Belgian citizenship before the UK’s referendum on membership of the EU.

She described it as her insurance policy.

“If the UK had voted to leave it would have been essential for me to stay in Europe with no worries,” she explained.

“If the UK had voted to stay then it was a vote of confidence in my now home country.”

The paperwork for applying for a Belgian passport
Image captionThe application for Belgian citizenship is made at a local level

It was relatively easy for Glynis to meet the conditions laid down by the Belgian government: five years of residence, proof of economic integration such as payments into the social security system, and the ability to speak one of the national languages of French, Dutch or German.

Her only mistake was failing to read the small-print on the application form, which specifies that copies of birth certificates must be less than three months old.

It all cost 200 euros (£170) plus a translator’s fee.

Applications are made at the level of the commune, the branch of local government that plays a big part in any Belgian resident’s official life.

Staff at the town hall in Ms Whiting’s neighbourhood of Woluwe-Saint-Lambert were bemused but welcoming, she said.


The neighbouring district of Ixelles is assessing 50 applications from Brits and there have been another 300 requests for information.

Local councillor, Delphine Bourgeois, said interest has come in two distinct waves: immediately after the referendum, and the days before and after the delivery of Theresa May’s letter that triggered the official start of the Brexit process.

Eleven cases are being processed in the suburb of Forest and 48 people have applied to the commune that covers the Brussels city centre.

This suggests there is a steady stream of British people adopting Belgian nationality, but not a stampede.

A woman walking into the European Commission building in BrusselsImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES Image captionJust over a thousand UK citizens currently work for the EU Commission

Questions and rumours abound in the expat community, from which commune has the most relaxed attitude concerning paperwork to whether the police inspect bedrooms to check that couples are definitely married.

To help expats navigate the system, the British Brussels Community Association is planning a series of workshops.

But becoming Belgian is not an option for some of the UK nationals employed in the EU institutions, such as the bloc’s executive arm, the European Commission.

Many of the Commission’s 1023 British staff pay their tax directly into the EU budget which means they may not have contributed enough to the Belgian state coffers, for example.

Then there are the EU agencies’ own regulations.

A letter from a British official, circulating among the European civil service trade unions, is calling on the EU Commission to clarify whether it will apply or ignore the paragraph of the staff handbook that specifies that only citizens of an EU member state can be employed by the organisation.

EU Commission president Jean-Claude JunckerImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES Image captionEU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has said all EU employees would be treated “as Europeans”


“With a snap of a finger, the commission could give certainty to British colleagues,” said Michael Ashbrook of Solidarity, Independence, Democracy (SID), a trade union representing employees of EU institutions and agencies.

The European Commission President, Jean Claude Juncker, wrote to staff on the day after the referendum, saying that all employees would be treated “as Europeans” regardless of their nationality.

His spokesman said further details will emerge during the negotiation of the UK’s departure.

The Brexit process gives hope to some British expats, such as Jason Phaetos, who runs the city’s only Cornish pasty stall.

“I’ve asked a few people about how to get Belgian papers but [the EU and the UK] have got to come to some sort of arrangement so I’m not too worried about it at the moment,” he told me.

And does he know of anyone who has left Belgium, fearful for the their future after the referendum?

“Only a couple. They supported Brexit. They moved back England with big smiles on their faces.”

(BBC News)

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