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So far, so close? How local citizens view the EU bubble in Brussels

20:08 14/06/2022

Indifference and a lack of integration, that’s how people in Brussels perceive the international community, according to a new study by ULB academic François Foret.

The first results published by research institute Brussels Studies reveal an image of two worlds – the international and the local – that coexist and interact without hostility and mutual benefit.

Although conducted in September 2021, the study is published as the presence in Brussels of the European Union in particular is heightened by the war in Ukraine. However, Brussels' prominence on the international political stage is not the most important thing for its residents.

The study shows that Brussels’ citizens take a practical view of the international institutions hosted by the city. They choose to highlight positive factors such as jobs created in the region over more negative ones like the gulf between the institutions and residents’ daily lives, as well as internationals’ lack of integration.

Political scientist Foret writes that the contribution of international institutions (all types combined) is estimated to be between 23% and 26% of regional activity and between 19% and 20% of jobs for the Brussels-Capital Region. The study also shows that respondents positively assess – with some caveats – the presence of international institutions in their city on a collective and individual level, both in terms of material aspects (economy, employment, public goods) and intangible aspects (identity and culture).

The author says that citizens believe the institutions play a huge role in the city’s strong identity. They do, however, express a rather distanced and above all very unequal relationship with these institutions, combined with limited knowledge and contact with them.  

Finally, the results seem to back up the common belief that the European quarter is mostly deserted or simply ignored by the local population that has no direct link with the EU bubble.

The citizens' responses reveal the image of two worlds that is characterised by a certain indifference and without too much integration. 

A more recent study cited by François Foret on staff working for the European institutions showed that their sense of belonging to Brussels society existed, although quite small.

Photo: © Simon Schmitt

Written by Nick Amies