28th May 2023

Poles, Bulgarians, and Romanians flock to EU capital

  • 'Polish day' in Brussels park, next to EU institutions (Photo: mik Krakow)

Polish women, Romanian men, and Turkish-speaking Bulgarians have made a beeline to Brussels since EU enlargement.

A survey, published on Tuesday (30 June) by local authorities, says 9,750 or so Bulgarians, 26,400 Poles, and 29,700 Romanians lived legally in the EU capital last year.

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They now make up 5 percent of the city’s population (1.2 million).

The Polish minority is five times bigger than when Poland joined the EU in 2004. The number of Bulgarians and Romanians tripled after they joined in 2007.

The Polish population stabilised some three years ago, in part because Poles come and go.

But Bulgarian and Romanian communities are still mushrooming, with people tending to stay due to poverty back home and the longer travel distance.

Women aged 30 to 34 are the biggest Polish segment. Thirty-something women also account for big chunks of Bulgarians.

But the Romanian minority contains more young men, many of whom have registered as self-employed workers.

The Polish community (now the fifth largest in Brussels) is the most diverse in socio-economic terms and has filtered out into various districts.

The biggest concentrations are in the EU quarter (Etterbeek and Schaerbeek), as well as in St Gilles, and, to a lesser extent, in Anderlecht and Laeken.

Romanians (the fourth largest community) at first clustered in the city centre. But then they moved to relatively poorer districts on the periphery: Anderlecht; Koekelberg; Le Quartier Maritime; Laeken; and Brabant.

Bulgarians (ninth largest) are “hyper-concentrated” in a poor area near the Gare du Nord train station (Schaerbeek and St Josse) on the edge of the city centre.

The study said this is because many are Turkish-speakers of Roma ethnicity who cling together due to poor language skills.

The study notes that Brussels was, in any case, a diverse city before EU enlargement.

One large wave of immigration came in the last century from Mediterranean countries, such as Italy and Portugal.

The number of sub-Saharan Africans, south-east Asians, and Latin Americans began to grow in the past 15 years.

For his part, Jean-Pierre Hermia, a Brussels authority statistics expert, said there's no scientific basis to say how native Brussels people view their new neighbours.

“We haven’t done any sociological studies on integration”, he told this website.

“We did the population study because this phenomenon [of growing numbers of Bulgarians, Poles, and Romanians] is something in the collective imagination. It’s known by residents. But it’s quite recent and no one studied it before”.

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