‘Brussels bubble’ works from home to beat terror alert
While Brussels was shut down by its biggest ever terror alert, the huge EU and NATO bureaucracy kept on churning, even if some staff had to work from their homes in Europe's institutional capital.
The headquarters of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation both boosted security after the Belgian government imposed a lockdown on Brussels amid fears of Paris-style attacks.
But while schools and the metro system were closed, along with the EU’s own nurseries, the two bureaucratic behemoths based in the usually sleepy city tried to make it business as usual.
“Yesterday went well. People worked,” European Commission spokesman Alexander Winterstein said at the glass-and-steel Berlaymont building that houses the executive arm of the EU.
About 20 percent of the Commission’s 30,000 employees “teleworked”, or worked from home, on the advice of the institution, he said.
But one employee who stayed home to look after her three children complained that the EU computer system was overloaded when she tried to access it from her laptop. “I couldn’t work much — it was saturated and I couldn’t access my documents,” she told AFP.
Winterstein said the “system is currently being upgraded to meet the unusually heavy demand,” adding that usually only a maximum five percent of staff access the network from outside at one time.
– ‘Catastrophe’ –
But in what might be seen as a symbol of European dysfunctionality, the Commission was on a so-called “yellow alert” while the European Council of EU leaders directly across the road was on a higher “orange” alert, confusing employees.
Around the EU district of Brussels, surrounding businesses bore the brunt of the lockdown.
“It’s a catastrophe,” said Sebastien, the manager of a cafe across the street from the Berlaymont.
Outside, two Belgian paratroopers with machine guns closely watched bypassers.
At the European Council, the institution that unites the EU member states, an official said that the dozen technical meetings scheduled for Monday were cancelled, “which left much emptier corridors”.
A meeting of eurozone finance ministers to discuss Greece’s bailout on Monday, however was kept.
However a Czech diplomat said he was “surprised” by the announcement of an EU-Turkey summit this Sunday, adding: “The Belgium authorities seem quite confident that they can handle 29 heads of states of government despite highest level alert,” he said.
At the NATO headquarters on the other side of town, non-essential staff were “asked to work from home, and external visits and visiting groups have been cancelled,” he added.
When NATO did host an emergency meeting of ambassadors on Tuesday to discuss Turkey’s shooting down of a Russian jet they faced another challenge — a lengthy power cut.