“A growing number of young French people are tempted to begin their professional careers abroad, notably in French-speaking Belgium,” explains Éric Verhaeghe, author of Faut-il quitter la France? [Should you leave France?] And the reason for their exile? “The French labour market is less and less motivating for them.”
The number of French residents in the Brussels region is constantly on the rise. In 2010, the Brussels Institute for Statistics and Analysis reported that they numbered 50,000, as opposed to 34,000 ten years earlier. In 2011, the population of French nationals registered in Belgium grew by 8.1%, the third highest rise in Western Europe after Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Amidst this diaspora, tax exiles are a minority, only accounting for 2% of the 250,000-strong French population in Belgium.
So what is the proportion of young graduates? “It will take time for the statistics to reveal this,” concedes Éric Verhaeghe. No figures, but if you look at the migration of French students to Belgium “there was a logical increase with the construction of Europe and the development of programmes like Erasmus. The single currency has also helped. Since then the number of French students arriving in Belgium doubled to reach 10,000 in the boom years.” Moreover, the Belgian government attempted to establish measures to limit these flows, although these were never implemented because they were deemed incompatible with European law in 2009.
In Brussels, economic pressure does not weigh as heavily as it does elsewhere. According to an international study on the cost of living conducted by Mercer in 2011, Brussels is the 62nd most expensive city, behind Bratislava and Athens, whereas Paris is ranked 27th. Then there is the issue of housing, which is strong motivation for many expatriates. In the 2011 ranking of European cities with the highest rents, Paris which is ranked 6th cannot compete with Brussels which is ranked 26th. “For 380 euros a month, I have a room in a shared house with a garden, hens and a vegetable patch,” explains Ninon. ”And it’s only five minutes from Flagey, which is young, trendy and multicultural neighbourhood.” At that price, it’s hard to find a studio in Paris.
For those whose main objective is to find a job, accessible housing and the low cost of living are a bonus, and the icing on the cake for expatriates is a quality of life that is clearly superior. Along with low population density, green spaces, a cultural life that is less elitist and more accessible than the one in Paris.
The Belgians have a lot to do with this migration… they have a very good reputation. However, they complain a lot about the French pushing up prices, the Parisians get especially bad press… They’re sharp, those Belgians.