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Brexit update from Belgium

The Freelance talked to Vic Wyman, the NUJ Continental European Council's rep on Freelance Industrial Council, and a member of NUJ Brussels Branch, on what UK national NUJ members face in post-Brexit Belgium.

The Old Hack pub, Brussels; Photo: Matt Salusbury

The Old Hack Pub, round the corner from the European Commission in Brussels (closed at weekends). The pub's name presumably refers to a target clientèle of British and Irish journalists based in Belgium.

For NUJ members in Belgium, the main Brexit effect so far is uncertainty about their future status, whether they are freelance or employed. The uncertainty covers both the right of British members to remain in Belgium (and other Continental countries) and the right to continue working as up to now.

No freelance members around the Continent have yet reported any Brexit-related difficulties, but some members fear that, if the UK continues to treat EU nationals with such deliberate hostility, Continental countries might respond in kind. If anyone has been posted to Belgium by their employer, they are likely to be under a UK contract, but it is not clear whether tax agreements will be affected by Brexit. Also, they would still need to register with their commune (their local authority), so Brexit could affect those members' future status in the country.

I have not noted much discussion about whether work for UK outlets post-Brexit will fall off, but a few members have suggested that there will still be a need for coverage of EU policy and other Continental topics irrespective of the UK’s future relationship with the EU. Perhaps the potential for freelances will not change much for years, or as Brexit grinds along there might be more work available.

The NUJ's Continental European Council is likely to put forward a motion for the Delegate Meeting (DM) next April calling on the union to work with the European Federation of Journalists to increase cooperation with EU organisations, to ensure continued UK media coverage of the EU and to avoid a UK-centric view of news by UK outlets. And the NUJ Brussels branch is likely to draft a DM motion calling for the union to seek continued post-Brexit access by members to EU institutions, such as the European Parliament and the European Commission - something that is likely to be particularly important for many Brussels members.

Also, the fall in the value of the pound against the euro after the Brexit vote has hit freelances in Belgium, and other Eurozone countries, who work for UK outlets. Members in Belgium already face some of the highest tax and social security levels in Europe, so UK rates for the job are often not very attractive in the first place.

The exchange rate plummeted from about €1.30/£1 after the vote but has been up and down since and is now about €1.14/£1. In response to Brexit, some members in Belgium have opted to apply for Belgian citizenship, which gives dual British-Belgian citizenship. However, some see Irish citizenship as an easier route to continued EU citizenship.

Dual citizenship is not possible in all EU countries (Spain and some Scandinavian countries, for example). In France, getting citizenship can reportedly take two years. However, as elsewhere, clock up five years of continuous residence in Belgium and you can apply for citizenship. That usually requires proof of: professional activity; payment of social security and taxes; and a fairly low-level mastery of one of the national languages (French, Dutch or German).

Belgian bureaucracy being what it is, even a fluent speaker of one of the languages will probably have to show certificates to prove the language skills. After 10 years' residence, you have a right to Belgian citizenship, but need proof of cultural integration (taking part in local activities, such as sports club membership) and knowledge of one of the languages. However, the various communes seem to process applications and to charge differently, even thought the final decision is taken at the federal level.

Like most people, I guess, the Brussels branch, and I as Continental freelance rep, are awaiting Brexit developments. However, the Brussels branch has put some basic information on to its website about Belgian citizenship and related matters.