In Brussels, an association fights to get expats involved in local life

“European cities attract expatriates,” notes the site Politicobefore conceding that, despite their economic and social contribution, “their relations with the local population are often strained”. More often than not, however, it is indifference that prevails. “This seems to be the case in Brussels, a city where, politically, expatriates are not taken into account.”

Although foreigners represent a third of the population of the Belgian capital, they do not have the right to vote, except for local elections. But even for this local election, their participation is very low – only about 12% of them are registered on the electoral lists. With this low level of involvement, the demands for greater political integration of expatriates are difficult to hear.

A group called Restless Brussels, formed in 2023, is campaigning for expats to be more involved in local political decision-making, particularly on issues of urban planning and quality of life. Tom Moylan, the founder, is Irish and has worked at the European Commission. He admits that the Brussels expat community “is not representative of the city as a whole, (they being) generally privileged, socio-economically well-off and educated” and they live in a bubble. Yet Restless Brussels is a success and has already brought together more than 1,500 people at 40 events, bringing together foreigners and local elected officials.
After the municipal elections, scheduled for 13 October 2024, Restless Brussels should work, beyond politics strictly speaking, to “improve links between the international community and the rest of the city”, through “civil society projects and cultural projects that reflect the evolution of Brussels’ identity”.

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