After Brexit, Brussels has seen a steep surge in nationality requests from British residents. The UK’s departure from the European Union has yet to be officially started, but British residents in Brussels are wasting no time in looking into the possibility of becoming Belgian citizens in order to remain in the EU.
Europe weighs today 14 % of the regional GDP in Brussels. In a municipality such as Ixelles, there is a huge population of EU citizens. The European Parliament is partly situated in Ixelles, on the Place du Luxembourg, and it is obvious that pubs and restaurants directly benefit from the close presence of the Eurocrats in Ixelles. New Europe editor Dan Alexe asked Delphine Bourgeois (a member of the Mouvement Réformateur, the French-speaking Belgian Liberals), Alderwoman for European affairs in the Brussels “commune” of Ixelles, what are those British citizens worried about:
Delphine Bourgeois: The high incertitude about their future. Many of them are fonctionnaires in the EU institutions. They leave in our commune because the EU Parliament is partly on our territory.
There are also many lobbyists, and many mixed couples. No-one is dramatising or panicking yet, but the situation remains serious nevertheless. In the first 20 days after the Brexit, we had 20 requests for naturalisation and tens of requests for information, only in our commune. Of course, no-one can foresee now how the negotiations between London and EU will proceed, since we know they will take two years.
Dan Alexe: How many Brits are there in Ixelles?
Delphine Bourgeois: We are the commune with the highest number of Brits. Out of Ixelles’s 80,000 inhabitants, 1,535 are British, the highest concentration in Belgium.
Dan Alexe: As many as the Congolese? You also have in Ixelles the most numerous and colourful Congolese community in Belgium, in the Matonge neighbourhood, close to the Porte de Namur.
Delphine Bourgeois (laughs): I was talking about EU citizens in our commune. So, we have high percentage of Brits. All in all, there are some 200,000 Brits living in Belgium. It appears that many of them are very worried by the consequences of the Brexit, and some started asking for Belgian citizenship. I was very touched by the disappointment of our British residents after the results of the referendum were announced. For the British who have lived here a long time, this was something that previously seemed unthinkable. Some people have the feeling they have lost a family member.
Dan Alexe: What do you do in order to assuage their fears?
Delphine Bourgeois: We, in our commune of Ixelles, always tried to build bridges between the citizens and the EU institutions. We organise visits of the institutions and we have many activities, such as the « 28 on your plate », which will now become the « 27 on your plate » !
Dan Alexe: They will be 28 again if Scotland is accepted in the EU. You will then have haggis on your plate.
Delphine Bourgeois (laughs): We also created an Advice Council on European matters, made of EU citizens and EU fonctionnaires. We have something like 50 active members who organise thematic evenings and working groups, conferences etc. The purpose is to show the citizens the importance of the EU for their daily life. We also count a lot on the local powers all over Europe.
Dan Alexe: Especially in light of the fact that we now have the Erasmus generation ready to take over.
Delphine Bourgeois: Exactly. We need to reshape Europe’s image, but also the image of its capital, Brussels, and to put an end to all this Brussels-bashing that we have seen all too often until now. With all the major institutions here, lobbyists, NATO, the international trade unions, NGOs and the thousands of jobs that all these are creating, we cannot afford to lose them.