No one really wants to be Belgian: Country doesn’t grant a single citizenship under new laws for 2013

More than 500 applications filed this year are expected to be refused - including French luxury goods magnate Bernard Arnault

brussels

Belgian citizenship may be a big draw for French stars looking to ease their tax bills, but it seems their neighbour is increasingly discerning about who they accept. While Britain mulls toughening its immigration rules, not one person has gained citizenship this year in Belgium under its new naturalisation laws.

More than 500 applications filed this year are expected to be refused – even those from the rich and famous. The French luxury goods magnate Bernard Arnault was among those rebuffed.

Under laws which came into force in January, people applying for citizenship must have lived in Belgium for five years and be able to prove that they have integrated into society, speaking at least one of the country’s three official languages and meeting strict economic requirements.

There is also a fast-track option known as naturalisation. In the past, applicants could apply if they had lived in Belgium for three years and could prove “true ties” with the nation of 11 million people. Now, they must demonstrate “outstanding services to Belgium” in fields such as culture, sport or science.

No one, it seem, was quite outstanding enough. The French-language daily La Libre reported this week that of the 508 people who had applied under the new naturalisation laws from January to the end of November, not one was expected to be approved.

Applications have also dropped dramatically. In 2012, a record 18,731 people applied for naturalisation, and 4,838 were successful. This year, 2,547 applications are being processed, although 2,039 of them are outstanding from previous years and being considered under the old laws.

Georges Dallemagne, a Belgian MP, called the previous legislation “too broad”, telling La Libre that the concept of true ties was “very vague”. Parliament was also required to approve each naturalisation request, and the increasing number of applications was creating large backlogs.

Mr Dallemagne said the new laws were “an evolution in the right direction”, and added that once the backlog of applications under the old laws was cleared up, he expected only two or three people to gain citizenship through the naturalisation law each month.

Despite the drop in naturalisation requests, foreigners can apply under the general citizenship laws; migrant workers can also apply for temporary residency. EU citizens can live and work freely in Belgium. The nation also granted protection to 5,880 refugees last year – more than most European countries in relation to its population.

Even before the laws were toughened up, some seemingly ideal Belgians lost out. The French crooner Johnny Hallyday, whose father is Belgian, had his application turned down in 2006 because he failed to meet the residency requirement.

Mr Arnault, France’s richest man and chairman of LVMH, the luxury goods firm, applied last year under the old laws, but was turned down in January because the naturalisation board was unconvinced that he had had a principal residence in Belgium for the required three years.

One person who did manage to become at least partly Belgian this year was the French actor, Gérard Depardieu. He was granted honorary citizenship in August, after shifting a few miles over the border and buying a house in the village of Néchin.

The star of Asterix and Obelix and Green Card moved to Belgium last year after François Hollande’s socialist government announced plans for a 75 per cent wealth tax. The actor insists, though, that his decision was motivated by his love of Belgian cuisine.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£28000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer and Markets Development Executive

£22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company's mission is to ma...

Recruitment Genius: Guest Services Assistant

£13832 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This 5 star leisure destination on the w...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager

£20000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Account Manager is requ...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory