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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.

Comments

secritcrush
Apr. 11th, 2008 05:11 pm (UTC)
Congratulations.

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