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‘Berlaymonster’ rises again

Published on 03/09/2004

3 September 2004

BRUSSELS – Seven years late and three times over budget, the European Commission’s plush new headquarters is preparing to open its doors once again.

The distinctive star-shaped structure in the city’s Schuman district has lain empty since 1991 when it was found to be riddled with asbestos.

The renovation was dogged by delays, accusations of incompetence and alleged fraud, earning the building its local nickname “The Berlaymonster”.

The final bill for rebuilding, land and relocating commission staff is expected to top EUR 1 billion, a sum largely footed by the Belgian taxpayer.

Incoming Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has already decided the new building will house all 25 European Commissioners, to foster team spirit.

The new commissioners will enjoy grand offices on the top three floors of the 13-storey Berlaymont.

They can expect five windows – on the basis of hierarchy – and an office of at least 75 square metres which will soon be filled with leather sofas and other trappings of euro power.

The 230,000 square metre building will also be the workplace of 2,200 of the Commission’s 18,000 Brussels-based staff.

The large, bright reception hall ressembles more a modern airport or shopping mall than the heart of Brussels bureaucracy.

The building is also designed to withstand unhappy EU citizens: specially-fitted anti-demonstration windows will keep warring protesters at bay.

The command centre of the EU HQ is on the 13th floor, where Barroso and his commissioners will meet for weekly strategy sessions.

Entering the room gives the impression of walking into a sci-fi movie. Under a futuristic light fitting shaped like a large egg, an oval table is equipped with James Bond-like pop-up computers.

A large, dark wall protrudes out over Europe’s capital. Bullet-proof glass and protective walls will hopefully put paid to any terrorist attacks.

To boost the Commission’s tarnished public image, contractors have installed ground-breaking energy conservation technology.

This includes reflective outside panels, which use heat sensors to warm the building in winter and keep it cool in summer.

But the Berlaymont has been unable to distance itself completely from Greenpeace accusations that contractors may have used illegal Indonesian timber in the refurbishment process.

[Copyright Expatica 2004]

Subject: Belgian news