Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The taxpayer offers the European Council a €240m Easter egg

Sketch of the new Europa building/Source: Council
Rejoice, austerity-ridden peoples of Europe. The European Council will obtain a brand-new €240m building at the place of today's Residence Palace in the European district of Brussels. Lavishly designed and with a prominent "beer belly" or "egg" in its center, the new Europa building is intended to host the president of the European Council, the Council presidencies, delegations and the press.

After the 2004 enlargement, says the Council, more permanent office spaces is needed to accomodate new arrivals in Brussels. The European Council therefore decided in March 2004 to offer itself a new building and selected a proposal by the architects Philippe SAMYN & PARTNERS in September 2005. At the time, European leaders demanded that the the cost of the building remain below €240m.

Faced with a frowning Angela Merkel and a fuming David Cameron, angry about the overall cost, the timing of the publication and the amount of €100,000 spent on an advertising brochure, Eurocrats were unapologetic during the recent European Council: "This was decided years ago, before the crisis. It will cost more now to cancel than to complete. It's good value."

The Justus Lipsius Building where meetings of the European Council and the Council of Ministers currently take place has a surface of 137 960 m2 with another 27 130 m2 rented in other buildings. In April, June and October, Ministers shun Brussels to meet in the Kirchberg Conference Centre in Luxembourg.

Although all EU citizens have a reason to be angry about yet another European building whose conference rooms will remain vacant between sessions (the EP building in Strasbourg is vacant in three weeks of four, except for visiting school classes), the really tough bit concerns Belgium. The Belgian government kindly agreed in the name of its citizens to cover the entire cost of the building and only claim reimbursement when it hands the premises over to the EU in 2014.

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