"These people are not obliged to register in Antwerp"

Antwerp city council has approved the increase in the tax that foreigners have to pay when they register for a first time with the Antwerp municipal authorities. The fee is being raised from 17 euros to 250 euros.

The city council is endorsing a decision by the Antwerp city cabinet. The city cabinet says that the hike is needed to cover the actual cost of maintaining a dossier for foreign residents.

34 councilors voted in favour and 19 against. The far right Vlaams Belang was the only opposition party to back the Flemish nationalist, Christian democrat and liberal coalition. Opposition socialists, greens and the far left pointed to legal and moral objections to the introduction of the measure.

Antwerp is the first Belgian city to charge such a high registration fee. The hike came in for considerable criticism also from the towns of Ghent and Mechelen that fear that many newcomers will decide to move there instead. The measure has also been condemned by human rights organisations that say that it is discriminatory.

Socialist Yasmine Kherbache voiced disappointment that the city had failed to await the implementation of the federal government's plan to introduce a central register for foreign nationals. She also held up legislation dating from 1968 that bans discrimination between Belgians and foreigners with regard to the height of this fee. Greens and socialists have filed a complaint with the Governor of Antwerp Province.

Far left and green councilors said that the decision would lead to problems with the European authorities.

City cabinet member Liesbeth Homans (Flemish nationalist) insisted that Antwerp had sought legal advice and that the service that they were providing was specific and voluntary: "These people are not obliged to register in Antwerp. A fee like this is OK in France and the Netherlands, but not in Antwerp?"

The city cabinet member responsible for city counters is convinced that the new regulation can survive any legal complaints thrown against it.