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Becoming Belgian

We've spent the morning at the town hall, applying for Belgian citizenship. If you've lived here continuously for seven years (and we've been here for over nine) it's pretty much automatic; you just need to get your birth certificate officially translated into the local official language. After handing those over, and then a lot of hanging round in the foyer, we were given a declaration to sign and told that the procureur would get back to us in a few months with instructions on getting new ID cards and passports.

I've always felt instinctively libertarian about nationalities. I already carry both UK and Irish passports, as all people from Northern Ireland are entitled to do under the Good Friday Agreement (ten years old yesterday). I occasionally wonder if my father's birth in Malaysia, or his mother's in the USA, might give me a shot at another citizenship or two. But the Belgian state has served us well over the last few years, especially with our family's special needs, and it seems appropriate to deepen our relationship with it. We don't have to give up our existing citizenships; the most serious obligation is that voting in Belgian elections will now be compulsory for us in all cases, rather than optional for local and European elections. But spending a few minutes in a ballot box once every couple of years is not exactly onerous.

There is, I must admit, a slight factor of ameliorating certain doomsday scenarios at the back of my mind. Neither of these is hugely likely, but to get a little more insurance against them is not a bad thing. The first case is, what if the UK leaves or gets kicked out of the EU? I already observe the frustration of my internationally-minded Norwegian and Swiss friends, wanting to pursue the same sort of career that I am in, but fundamentally hampered by the decisions of their countries to stay out. Sure, the EEA agreements are meant to take care of that sort of thing; but psychologically, it just isn't the same. I don't think a referendum on anything positive to do with Europe could pass right now in the UK, and until the situation is resolved (preferably by the British body politic catching itself on about Europe, rather than by leaving) we are on borrowed time. I have Irish citizenship anyway, but my wife does not.

The other doomsday scenario is the much discussed potential breakup of Belgium. I'm less inclined to feel that it will happen now than I was a few months back - we now have in place the government that won the elections last year, and it is to be hoped that the educative effect of working with his Francophone counterparts on day-to-day issues will mellow Yves Leterme's approach. But in the context of the continuous hollowing-out of the Belgian state, citizenship rights are bound to go on the list at some point - there are plenty of examples of states with different internal citizenships around the world - and already our children's care provision is dependent on our continued residence, not in Belgium, but in Flanders. Presumably if the crunch ever comes, existing Belgian citizens will be transitioned into the new arrangements fairly automatically, so it makes sense to consolidate our own position now.

Those two issues probably are not worth thinking about even to the extent of reading (let alone writing) two short paragraphs about them. There are lots of positive reasons to embrace Belgian-ness: the quiet and subversive liberal ethos; the excellent (if occasionally bureaucratic) public services; the diversity and quality of food and beer. But what really pushed us to take the step was young F. He was born a few months after we moved here, and knows that his mummy is English and his daddy is Irish; but he goes to our local village school, watches Flemish children's television as readily as CBBC, and stunned us one day recently by coming home and telling us what he had been learning about "our six kings" (Leopold I, Leopold II, Albert I, Leopold III, Baudouin/Boudewijn and Albert II). He feels Belgian more than anything, and has no reason not to. Once the procureur has finished with our papers, the legal state of affairs will be brought into line with his perception.


( 34 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 11th, 2008 10:44 am (UTC)
Apr. 11th, 2008 12:57 pm (UTC)
Widespread global support
Congratualtions indeed.

In support of your application, I have created a facebook group: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=26627666376
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 11th, 2008 11:27 am (UTC)
I did always wonder what the situation with that was (I'm half-Austrian but only have a British passport), as, as you say, it's a neutral country and I do always threaten to move back.
Apr. 11th, 2008 11:18 am (UTC)
Welcome to Belgium =)

The separation of Belgium is something I worry about. I mean I'm Flemish, my SO is Walloon, and our daughter was born in Wallonia. Is she Flemish because I am or is she Walloon because she's born here? (Oh wait, the obvious answer would be, she's Belgian cause she's a mix, but yeah). I don't want to have to get a permanent residency or something!

Apr. 11th, 2008 11:47 am (UTC)
Multicultural kids
My nieces have access to being Spanish, Catalonian, Irish, Dutch, American and Chilean as far as I know though they currently only hold the passports to the Irish, Dutch and American nationalities right now.

The girls chatter to each other in Catalan - technically a language neither parent actually speaks.
Apr. 11th, 2008 12:49 pm (UTC)
Does F get citizenship through birth there or does he need you guys to apply on his behalf? I realise his school is different from the European School I went to but I think my schooling in Brussels was the best.

If Scotland became independent (which I'm ambivalent about) I'd probably apply to become Scottish, but I can't bring myself to become British.
Apr. 11th, 2008 01:14 pm (UTC)
We were told that F's citizenship (and his sisters') will be pretty automatic, with no further form-filling required. Well, we'll see, when he gets to the age of 12 and is entitled to his own ID card...
(no subject) - hfnuala - Apr. 11th, 2008 01:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - nwhyte - Apr. 11th, 2008 01:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 11th, 2008 12:56 pm (UTC)
Bravo! We're really looking forward to the end of this year, when we can get the ball rolling to get Ted's Irish citizenship. (Then, we've cheerfully said, if we want to go back to North America, we can move to Canada as Irish citizens instead of Americans. :))
Apr. 11th, 2008 12:56 pm (UTC)
Inasmuch as I believe in citizenship, it's obvious that dual citizenship is entirely bogus and should never be allowed. Heh.
Apr. 11th, 2008 07:49 pm (UTC)
It's a bit like infant baptism - you may not believe in it, but it happens!
(no subject) - nickbarnes - Apr. 11th, 2008 09:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - artw - Apr. 12th, 2008 07:15 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - nwhyte - Apr. 12th, 2008 02:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - nickbarnes - Apr. 12th, 2008 04:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - liberaliser - Apr. 12th, 2008 09:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - nickbarnes - Apr. 12th, 2008 10:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - redfiona99 - Apr. 12th, 2008 11:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 11th, 2008 03:09 pm (UTC)
Congratulations. I envy you - only a little. I now have achieved permanent resident status in Estonia and in 3 years will be able to take the (very difficult, I'm told) exam for citizenship. That's doable, I think as I use Estonian quite regularly. BUT, I will have to give up my US citizenship - not something that bothers me much, but others I've told this to are horrified.
Anyway - good for you.
Apr. 11th, 2008 07:28 pm (UTC)
I know several people who hold joint UK (or other EU)/US citizenship. The US really, really doesn't like it, but they don't actually take it away.
(no subject) - saare_snowqueen - Apr. 11th, 2008 07:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 11th, 2008 04:37 pm (UTC)
Congratulations! I need to get my UK citizenship this year.
Apr. 11th, 2008 05:11 pm (UTC)
Apr. 11th, 2008 07:33 pm (UTC)
Good luck with the bureaucracy!

I did not know that Northern Irish people are entitled to Irish passports. Then again, my Northern Irish partner has been residing in England since before the Good Friday Agreement, so I guess it's never come up.

If your first doomsday scenario came true I'd be screwed - the only reason I should get UK citizenship is to be freer to work and travel in the rest of Europe.

I also wasn't aware Belgium had compulsory voting. That's something I associate with Australia/NZ.
Apr. 11th, 2008 10:21 pm (UTC)
Congratulations to you both! For myself, the whole idea of citizenship of a single country makes me itch, and I would renounce my UK citizenship if I could become a citizen of "none of the above". But given that one (still) has to make a choice, and most especially given your situation, it's a fine decision, and you couldn't have chosen a nicer country. Belgium, meanwhile, is very lucky to have you all!
Apr. 12th, 2008 10:17 am (UTC)
Here here - on the last bit (I don't personally get itchy re citizenship...)! Congratulations, good on F, and I look forward to being able to talk about my 'Belgian relations' with truth - much quicker than 'the ones that live somewhere near Brussels'...!
(no subject) - liberaliser - Apr. 12th, 2008 12:00 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bellafish - Apr. 12th, 2008 04:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - nwhyte - Apr. 12th, 2008 06:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bellafish - Apr. 12th, 2008 07:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 12th, 2008 01:52 am (UTC)
Hehehe, another United Nations family - I'm glad that as much as anything else, you are finding more of a home for them all and yourself. :-)

Out of curiosity, what are the upper limits on multiple citizenships you can hold, out of all your possibilities?

When I went to my Italian friend's wedding recently, he and his wife had to make some strategic decisions about their American-Italian-Japanese baby's national identities.
Apr. 13th, 2008 10:24 am (UTC)
I will be eligible to apply for Belgian citizenship next year. I have almost recognized the distinction between the songs that the dry cleaner vans play versus those that the ice cream vans play. I understand this is a crucial part of the citizenship test. :) (kidding)
P says he was discussing the foreigner's mistrust of the ID card at work and the upshot was that, by contrast, they were all for implanting a chip. If that trust is linked to perceptions of legitimacy, the government of Belgium has nothing to worry about.

Apr. 16th, 2008 07:57 pm (UTC)
Fair plé daoibh! Good on for ye and yer son.
( 34 comments — Leave a comment )

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