Can I be an ECCO researcher even without a research contract?
Yes, you can!
It could happen that you have been accepted as a member of ECCO, and are eager to start doing research, but haven't yet managed to secure funding (scholarship, or research contract) for it. Or perhaps, you don't need funding because you already have a (part-time) job outside of the university, or simply have large savings.
In that case, it is understandable that you would like to get some kind of official recognition for the research work you do, and get access to the same facilities as your paid colleagues. A solution specifically for those situations exists.
Voluntary researcher status
The VUB legally recognizes the status of voluntary researcher ("vrijwilllig wetenschappelijk medewerker"), i.e. someone participating in the activities of a VUB research group, but without being paid for it. This status basically provides the same rights and privileges as the one of a researcher employed by the VUB. For example, it entitles you to an insurance for accidents that might occur while working at the VUB, a VUB email address, access to the network and machines, the use of software for which the VUB has a licence, or of books and papers in the VUB library.
To get such a status, you should submit a form to the VUB personnel department, stating that you do research work at one of the recognized departments, and have it signed by your promotor or head of department.
An alternative for registration as a voluntary researcher is registration as a PhD student. The student status gives you largely the same rights and privileges, though there are some subtle differences. E.g. students are entitled to reduced fees for public transport, unlike voluntary researchers, but have to pay a (small) yearly registration fee. The student status also makes less sense for people who already have a PhD.
ECCO membership without special status
Finally, you don't need any legally recognized status with the university to become an official member of ECCO, whether full or affiliated. This means that your name would be listed on the ECCO members page, and that you would be entitled to mention ECCO as your academic affiliation on any publications or conferences that you participate in.
If needed, you can moreover get a VUB network account, that gives you access to email, electronic library holdings, etc. For that, you need to fill out a registration as visiting researcher, and have it signed by your head of department (F. Heylighen). This does not entitle you to an insurance, though. Therefore, this option is interesting mostly for people who work outside the VUB.