SOCIETY

Heading to Brussels for work? Dutch is a must

Around 20,000-22,000 Greeks have sought to find jobs in the European capital since the start of the economic crisis back home, according to estimates by the president of the Greek Community in Brussels, Dimitris Argyropoulos. Another 8,641 Greeks applied for a job at the European Commission in the 2010-12 period, said Argyropoulos, who presented his data to the EU’s executive body and also spoke to Kathimerini.

However, despite the strong Greek presence in Brussels and Belgium’s low unemployment rate (7.3 percent), just 2,000 hopefuls managed to get work there, Argyropoulos said. The biggest problem, he believes, was that the majority of Greek job-hunters did not speak French or Dutch, and English is just not enough to go on in the multicultural city.

“What we did was to find them places to stay temporarily in cooperation with various local municipalities,” Argyropoulos said. “Most eventually turned back.”

Maria, who declined to give her last name, found a job as a waitress in a restaurant near Brussels’s famed Grand Place. She advised every Greek interested in looking for a job in Belgium that they should take a crash course in Dutch before they even make the trip.

“Every week I put up a friend or acquaintance who is looking for work, any kind of work,” Maria told Kathimerini. “The wage is around 8 euros an hour when you only speak French, but 14 euros an hours if you can speak Dutch as well. What’s more, Flanders has a very low unemployment rate and it easy to find work there.”

Another one of the few lucky Greeks to find work in Brussels did so at the European Union, but declined to be named. He also managed to help his sister’s two sons get settled later.

“One son, a tattoo artist, found work and is now making good money. The other had problems getting his unemployment benefits, but eventually found work at a furniture store after taking Flemish lessons,” he said.

It seems that the flow of immigrants coming from Greece due to skyrocketing unemployment does not just comprise young, highly educated people, but also unspecialized laborers. But the Greeks in Belgium also say that unless job seekers know one or both of the country’s official languages, are qualified and, most importantly, have acquaintances to help them get on their feet, then they should think twice about making the trip over.

Despite the fact there is a huge industry that has developed around the European Union’s and NATO’s headquarters – including public relations, communications, lobbies and media – in Brussels it is extremely difficult to get a foot in the door without help.

In contrast, people looking for work outside the EU-NATO bubble may have better luck in areas such as computer engineering and programming.

As far as getting a comfortable and well-paid job within the EU or the Commission, the competition is tough to say the least: Of the 2,971 Greeks who applied for a job with the Commission in 2012, just six were eventually hired. That said, there are more Greeks in the higher echelons of the Commission than the quota it is entitled to based on the country’s population.

The crisis, however, has not just pushed Greeks to Belgium, it has also galvanized Greek communities all around the world, including in the European capital. Among several interesting initiatives to help Greece is a campaign for the promotion of Greek products in Belgium run by a group of expatriate volunteers, which helps locate sales centers and organize promotional events for Greek products.

Advice and tips for Greeks hoping to find work in Brussels can be found on the website of the Greek community group at http://www.ek-b.be.