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‘Manifesto of International Brussels’ presented to Parliament

11:57 05/05/2022

Around 1,300 international Brussels residents have drawn up a manifesto containing 22 policy proposals for “a better Brussels”, presenting the final draft to the regional parliament. 

The manifesto is the result of an initiative by and the city’s secretary of state Pascal Smet, intended to help expatriates get involved in city politics through a platform called Brussels Voice

“It is the first time ever that the regional parliament has welcomed non-Belgians and newcomers in this way,” said Brussels Commissioner for Europe and International Organisations Alain Hutchinson.

“The discussions have shown that international Brussels residents really care about their home and that they have much to offer if we give them the chance to make their voices heard.”

One third of Brussels population is non-Belgian

One in three people living in the Brussels Capital Region has a foreign nationality. Nevertheless, non-Belgians are not allowed to vote in the regional elections – the Brussels Voice platform aims to give them an alternative opportunity to express their views on regional policies that have a direct impact on their daily lives. 

The different proposals and demands of the manifesto are divided into six themes: the right to vote for international Brussels residents, mobility, accessibility of public services, public spaces, urban cleanliness and diversity.

“The vast majority pay taxes, work here, but have no say in regional policies,” said Bryn Watkins, a Belgian citizen of British origin and a Brussels resident for eight years (pictured).

“This is a democratic gap between the region and the population of the city. If you remove the people who have dual nationality, you end up with a quarter of the region's population who can't vote.”

The right to vote in regional elections for expatriates is one of the 22 proposals in the Manifesto. Another proposal is to have a consultative assembly of Brussels expatriates, which Smet supports.  

“It can be implemented now at the regional level, we don't have to wait for the federal government to do it,” Smet said, adding that some form of a committee could be created in the next few months.

Brussels' international community "essential part of society"

“The international people of Brussels count. They are an essential part of our society and are not heard enough. Giving them a voice is a first step towards valuing them. We gave an important signal by having them present their wishes from the Manifesto in parliament. It is up to us as policymakers to implement their recommendations and to fight against this democratic deficit.”

Brussels Voice is the latest initiative to call for voting rights for expats. The group 1Bru1vote launched a campaign in 2018 to extend non-Belgians’ voting rights to regional elections.

Written by Helen Lyons