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Five questions about Brexit's impact on expats (and a few answers)
Is it actually happening?
"Yes, Brexit will happen," says Alan Campbell, deputy head of mission at the British Embassy in Brussels. "A lot of people may have seen some newspaper comments about the language we've been using since the referendum, that 'Brexit means Brexit'. The reason that line has been used so frequently is that the referendum has happened, we will be leaving the EU and it will be happening."
"What we want to end up with is a mature, cooperative relationship with the EU going forward," says Campbell. He adds that there is "an awful lot of work being done" to make sure that "when we start negotiations we start in the right way."
What will happen to British staff in the EU institutions?
"The issue is about career development rather than job loss," according to Josephine Wood, chair of Brussels Labour. On the morning of the Brexit vote, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker wrote to all staff. "He said, and I think it's a nice line, you left your national hat at the door when you joined in the institutions and that door is not closing now," says Wood.
"Basically you were recruited as European citizens, not British nationals. We have cases of Norwegians who joined the European institutions who are still working." The issue for British EU civil servants, she says, is "will you be able to legitimately have a career path and what are your prospects in the institutions?"
Can Britons with the special ID card apply for Belgian citizenship?
The short answer - for now - is no, says Wood. "It will not give you Belgian citizenship. You have to start the clock again from zero and get five years [residency]. The European Commission is not happy about this. There are conversations going on with the Belgian government about this."
Wood says she has also heard of expats who were declined Belgian nationality because they could not prove active involvement in Belgian local life. "You've got to think about it from the Belgian government perspective," she says. "They could be about to take on full responsibility until your death for thousands of people. That's a huge cost of health, pensions etc. They need to think about whether they want to take on this extra population."
She adds that, instead of the term expat, "I think we should start calling ourselves migrant workers ... we're bargaining chips."
Can Britons in Belgium turn to the embassy for answers?
Not yet, it seems. The embassy was unable to answer many of the audience questions on the night, ranging from Erasmus student exchange schemes to cross-border pension rights.
"What we will try to do, as the negotiations continue, is that we will inform the British community," says Alan Campbell at the British Embassy. "There is a commitment certainly from the embassy and the ambassador to feed out information. We want to make sure people make informed decisions. It's going to be challenging but we should approach this in a positive way. We know that there's uncertainty. We at the embassy will try our best to inform you to try to reduce that uncertainty."
What is Brussels doing to attract post-Brexit business?
Unlike Paris, Frankfurt and Dublin, which have already started touting for British business, Brussels has no plans at this stage to actively organise trade shows to drum up interest in moving here, says Jan De Brabanter, secretary general at the Brussels Chamber of Commerce. But there are clearly discussions going on behind-the-scenes to make sure Belgium is as attractive as possible for business.
"In Brussels, we have lots to offer investors," he says. "If they decide to move and settle down on the continent, of course they are welcome in Belgium. We will try to convince them that Brussels has a lot of opportunities and multilingual, highly educated people who are of course interested in having jobs."
Competition to attract post-Brexit business is tough, he says. "We have to change a lot in Brussels. One of the topics we are dealing with right now - on a regional and federal level - is to make it possible that English could become an administrative language. That way we could attract UK businesses to the continent. If it would be possible to have people hired and offer them a contract in English it could be a benefit for everyone."