Disgruntled Belgians seek escape … in Luxembourg | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 16.06.2011
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Disgruntled Belgians seek escape … in Luxembourg

It may not have the drama of North African migrants swamping the Italian island of Lampedusa, but Europe has another border flight quietly playing out on the frontier between Belgium and Luxembourg.

Pascal Beyaert holding his new passport

Belgian Pascal Beyaert is proud of his new passport

People around the sleepy town of Arlon in southern Belgium have discovered an innovative way to escape the political stalemate in their country: by taking up Luxembourg citizenship.

Back in 2008, Luxembourg eased its citizenship laws, allowing people to hold dual nationality. To get a Luxembourg passport, all you have to do is prove you have an ancestor who was a citizen of Luxembourg on the 1st of January, 1900. The area around Arlon was part of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg for centuries until 1839, so many local Belgian families qualify.

But they have to have the necessary paperwork. That's why locals are flocking to the archives in Arlon Town Hall to search for documents to prove their family origins.

The Town Hall in Arlon, Belgium

The Town Hall in Arlon holds the local area archives

In the first year, just 22 people took up the offer, the number rising to 80 in 2010. But this year, the numbers from Belgium are likely to be in the hundreds. Georges Medinger, Alderman of Arlon, explains why there's been a sudden upsurge.

"Shortly before Christmas 2010 in a local newspaper one citizen of Arlon was interviewed about his double nationality," Medinger explained to Deutsche Welle. "And as many of our population read this article, most of them wished to do the same thing and that's why from January on we had crowds of people coming to the town hall to get this double nationality."

Cultural links to Luxembourg

The alderman has now decided to apply for a Luxembourg passport himself. He pulls out an ancient-looking book and proudly shows me his grandfather's marriage certificate. The records show that Medinger's grandfather was born in Luxembourg in 1876 and married in Arlon in 1902.

A street in Luxembourg city

Luxembourg is seen as a haven, with high quality of life

Medinger has sentimental reasons for wanting to be a Luxembourger. At home with his family as a child, he spoke Luxembourgish, a language related to Old German - until he went to school and was forced to speak French by the post-war anti-German Belgian authorities. He says many in the area feel a closer cultural connection to Luxembourg than to Belgium, but there are also political reasons for wanting another passport.

"People here in Belgium speak of the end of Belgium, that we will never find back a national unity. So in case Belgium breaks down they think that with having the Luxembourgish nationality they would have a chance to be maybe taken over by Luxembourg," Medinger says.

Political stalemate

Belgium has now been without a federal government for over a year. The country held elections on June 13, 2010, which were won by the new Flemish Alliance N-VA in the northern region of Flanders and by the Socialist Party (PS) in the French-speaking south.

PS leader Elio Di Rupo is currently attempting to form a government, the second time King Albert II has appointed him to the role. Over the last 12 months, Francophone and Flemish-speaking politicians have tried, and failed, to find a compromise.

A Unity demonstration in Brussels

Belgians are demanding that the rival political groups form a coalition government

But, at least in the south, people are getting impatient. Pascal Beyaert has already acquired a pristine new Luxembourg passport. He also feels close ties to the country.

"It gives me a sense of pride to hold a Luxembourg passport," Beyaert said. "I still live in Belgium, but I've been working in Luxembourg for 24 years now, just like my father, my brother, my sisters and like many other people from the region. So there are deep ties between the people from this region around Arlon, the border community, and Luxembourg."

Beyaert is fed up with life in Belgium, and sees Luxembourg as a little El Dorado next door, with lower taxes and low unemployment. He's now thinking of moving there with his family - and even of renouncing his Belgian nationality.

"Almost every day if you open up the newspaper in Belgium, or you listen to the radio, the news is about strikes: it's either the buses or the trains, or problems with the post office. There's always something. You never hear anything of that kind from Luxembourg. They live in social harmony. It's rare, but it does exist."

Luxembourg isn't worried

The Luxembourg Justice Minister Francois Biltgen is keen to play down suggestions that his country is being invaded by an influx of Belgians.

"I'm not very afraid of this movement, because it's not a huge movement: we're not being invaded by Belgians, and Luxembourg will not be becoming a Belgium province!"

Biltgen stresses that the numbers are still relatively small: he has personally approved almost 9,000 new citizens since the law came into force. But most of them are people already living and working in Luxembourg, or those who've married Luxembourgers. Only a few are seeking to recover the nationality of their ancestors, but the Belgians feature prominently in that group. Biltgen says that says more about Belgium than it does about Luxembourg.

Author: Joanna Impey, Luxembourg
Editor: Michael Lawton

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