I am in my late twenties and came to Brussels three years ago. Moving to Belgium gave me a chance to reorient myself professionally that I would not have had in the UK; I also found that I loved Brussels’ quality of life, excellent transport connections, and opportunities to make friends from all over Europe and beyond. Since then I have worked in and around the European institutions (although I am not a ‘Eurocrat’). The European ideal is very important to me personally and, while I do not think the EU is perfect, on most reckonings its advantages far outweigh its disadvantages. I would have had more respect for the referendum campaign if the debate had been focused on these issues.
In Brussels on June 24 2016 there was a heavy sense of stunned disbelief (as well as numerous television crews, as reporters from many countries sought to explain the implications of what was happening). Friends of mine from other countries – many of whom have a lot of affection for the UK – have been nothing but sympathetic. Still, it is hard for me not to feel an occasional pang of envy for other EU citizens; I have a job and am settled in Belgium and have no fear of being asked to leave, but after Brexit my life will always be a little bit (if not more) complicated than theirs.
That said, I plan to apply for Belgian citizenship once I am eligible: five years of continuous residence are required in addition to some more specific stipulations. This is less than in some places, but Belgian bureaucracy can be very difficult to deal with. People have reported different outcomes depending on where they live, as administration is handled by the local town hall, where you have to register on arrival and prove that you have or are looking for a job. Indeed, this can be a frustrating process, but it shows Belgium is enforcing EU free movement legislation: if you spend more than three months in another EU country you have to be working, studying, or have funds to support yourself. Registering people in this way is a complete contrast to the UK, of course. No doubt the Belgian system is not completely watertight, but it is proof that the EU does not force its member countries to admit unlimited numbers of each other’s citizens.