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Europe

Doubling of French applying to become Belgian citizens

media Bernard Arnault, one of the high-profile French applicants for Belgian … Reuters

The number of French people who applied for Belgian nationality has doubled over the past year as debate raged over President François Hollande’s plans to heavily tax millionaires.

A total of 126 French people submitted applications in 2012 compared to 63 each in 2011 and 2010, according to Georges Dallemagne, the president of the naturalisation commission of the Chamber of Representatives in the Belgian parliament.

“It has really been a French phenomenon. There was a general increase in demand last year, but only the French grew by so much,” he told the news agency AFP.

The government of François Hollande has been pushing for a 75% tax rate on incomes over one million euros, causing mega-rich celebrities and business people to publicly announce their intentions to move to Belgium and other places with lower tax rates.

The French actor Gérard Depardieu has been particularly outspoken on the issue, and has bought a house in a Belgian village two kilometres from the French border.

On Thursday, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, granted Depardieu Russian citizenship. Russia has a flat income tax rate of 13 percent.

Europe’s richest man and the head of the French luxury group LVMH, Bernard Arnault, has also applied for Belgian nationality, although he insists it is not for tax reasons.

Belgian press reports say Arnault’s application may be rejected as he does not meet residency requirements.

Dallemagne said the jump in French applications could also be related to changes in Belgian law which came into effect in the new year.

Instead of having to live in Belgium for three years, applicants will now have to show they have lived in the country for at least five years, however the naturalisation commission can accord Belgian nationality to people who may be able to contribute to the country as artists, entrepreneurs or athletes.

The commission received a total of 15,700 nationality applications last year.

An estimated 200,000 French live in Belgium.

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