An anonymous looking letter from the commune was waiting for me when I got home last night.
It’s been four months, and bang on schedule my Belgian nationality application has been approved.
I am pleased that the process is complete, but I get a warm glow about the timing. Sometime in the next week the Conservative Party in the UK is expected announce that Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson will become its leader and therefore Prime Minister.
Back in the 1980s with the assurance I youth I spoke out loud and said “If Maggie Thatcher gets elected again I’m going to emigrate.” Life takes over, it never happened until the wonderful chance was given to us by European Cyclists’ Federation to come and try life in Belgium.
Taking Belgian nationality wasn’t automatic when we arrived, as an EU citizen I had a secure job and stability in Belgium. With Brexit and knowing that Boris is intent on the political equivalent of the Charge of the Light Brigade I would be completely stupid not to make sure my life can continue. To get the nationality approved on the week he becomes Prime Minister is invisible to him, but it has a symbolic value for me.
Belgium is no utopia (where is?), there are a different set of challenges and issues that can easily cause hair pulling and teeth grinding. But I feel that am very lucky that I have the chance to stand apart from the sadness I feel about what is happening to the UK, to its place in the world, the hardening of attitudes that feel so alien to ideas of “home”.
That is summed up by the appointment of Boris, and by the contrasting experience of nationality applications between the UK and Belgium. Theresa May’s legacy of intolerance as Home Secretary leaves an immigration system creating a trail of families torn apart, much needed professionals sent home and an expectation that the NHS cannot be staffed and food will rot in the fields.
People who have contributed to society, raised families and paid far over the average level of tax are being told that Britain is not for them. And even if you pass the climate of intolerance the process of citizenship is slow, stressful and expensive. We know, because my wife went through it after 28 years of living in the UK.
For Belgian nationality there are four tests. Social integration, economic integration, community integration and linguistic integration. However if you have been continuously registered and employed in the country for 5 years there is an automatic assumption that you are a stable participant in the life of the country.
And when it comes to the application I get no sense that I have signed up for feudal servitude to a medieval institution. I signed to say I accept the constitution (written) and a commitment to human rights, both of which I can happily do.
Frites, beer, chocolate, cycling classics, potholes in the road, shops closed on Mondays, tranquillity laws, multilingualism, etc etc …….., I have signed up to all of it and I have been accepted.
Thank you Belgium.