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The Administrative Belgian

Brexit, shemexit, enough already! All the Cassandras, the pundits and politicians have chimed in on the fall of Great Britain after its decision to leave the European Union on 23 June. What this Brexit brouhaha has set in motion in Belgium is a growing desire among British subjects to apply for Belgian citizenship in order to maintain their recently (or soon-to-be)-lost EU status.

However, this recent surge in interest concerning Belgian nationality raises serious questions about the meaning of citizenship and the relationship between nationals and their country.

What reasons do most Britons give for wanting to be a Belgian national? There’s usually a reference to feeling at home, already being established and integrated, the general, often heard comment of enjoying the country’s vibe, etc. This situation raises the question of whether an EU Member State passport is enough to ascribe a sense of understanding the nation’s culture (in Belgium’s case, cultures) language(s) and place in history. These would-be administrative Belgians (full disclosure: I became one of them after living here for 40 years) have usually been here for years, as expats for multinationals or numerous international organisations scattered throughout Brussels.

I’m not against immigration or immigrants–after all, I am one, and I am the son of one to the USA–I do feel a country’s immigration authority has the right to question an individual’s motivations for wanting to assume Belgian citizenship. Maybe two questions might separate the opportunists from the true believers. A narrow view of the naturalisation process would be an appropriate way of ensuring that future immigrants to Belgium come here for the right reasons.

I propose the two following questions as a simple litmus test for any one who wants to become a Belgian:

1.    Why do you want to be a Belgian?

2.    What can you contribute to the country?

These are questions that can be asked of not only Britons wanting to be a citizen of an EU Member State. They should also be posed to the large number of new arrivals from areas affected by war and terror who want to become Belgian.

Belgian authorities dealt with well-known French tax exiles (e.g. Johnny Halliday and Bernard Arnault), who did not meet the criteria for Belgian nationality, by refusing them citizenship. Immigration authorities should be discerning. Becoming a Belgian should not come cheap, and those who want it should undergo careful scrutiny.

By Arthur Rubinstein