The Ideas Lab - with its €11,000 glazed partitions - which can open up to MEP Rainer Wieland's €486,000 office (Photo: EUobserver)

EU Parliament's €134k 'cost-saving Ideas Lab' proposed ... plastic bins

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The European Parliament spent roughly €640k around two years ago on a state-of-the art office for Rainer Wieland, a German centre-right MEP and one of the parliament's 14 vice-presidents.

At the time Wieland had justified the renovations and costs, including the construction of an adjoining 'Ideas Lab', as part of a wider effort to save taxpayers money.

Fast forward to the present day and it remains unclear which ideas have led to what savings. But the Ideas Lab, a €134,000 showroom, has since tested several. This includes small green plastic containers where people can toss paper to get recycled.

"These can be used to collect and transport waste to the five-compartment recycling bins during the phasing out of individual mixed waste bins," said a European Parliament document from 2022.

The European Parliament did not respond when asked if the bins have since been rolled out.

Screenshot of plastic bins tested by the Ideas Lab

But the same document also says that tests for benches, where people can sit, was interrupted — given the Covid-pandemic lockdown.

Those ideas are gathered from a select number of MEPs sitting in a working group dealing with buildings.

The concept of the Ideas Lab stretches back to October 2019 and was signed off by the Bureau, an internal administrative body composed of the leadership of the European Parliament's political groups. Cost estimates were not given.

This came at a time when Wieland was in charge of building policy at the European Parliament. The total bill for his office on the 15th floor of the European Parliament came in at €486,000. His built-in furniture alone cost €58,000, its glazed partitions €33,600, and six electronic locks almost €11,000.

And the 'ideas lab' showroom, a relatively small space, was adjoined to his office. Wieland describes the space as a multifunctional meeting room, open to MEPs and staff.

The Guardian newspaper broke the story in 2022 and quoted Wieland as saying that "testing costs money". Not doing any testing could potentially cost even more, he said.

The European People's Party has defended Wieland, following the Guardian article. They said he was being personally attacked on unanimous decisions taken by the Bureau.

And they said his office renovations serve as a testing area for new integrated technology, security, and other solutions for a "possible larger-scale implementation."

But now a European Parliament document from late last year has cast a shadow over some of those high-tech solutions. This includes proposals for holographic meeting rooms, immersive video-conferencing, a voice assistant box, and proximity assistant bots.

Most require more "in-depth analysis", while the immersive video-conferencing has been stopped. It also says office space with opacifying walls and motorised partitions are expensive for a large-scale rollout. So too are electronic locks, it notes.

Other ideas floated include replacing MEP office nameplates with digital signage. "The digital signage can give additional information such as 'do not disturb'," says the European Parliament document.

Attendance record?

However, the European Parliament also has no record of anyone ever reserving the Idea Lab since its inception.

"We do not hold any document or electronic record containing such information, nor can it be extracted from our room reservation system," it said, following a document access request.

When queried, Wieland says he has seen groups of people frequently make use what had previously been unused space. And he says this is how EU taxpayer money is being saved.

"Any square meter that was unused in the past and is now being used leads to costs savings," he said.

But he also admits that the Ideas Lab is not fully functional. He says more could be tested. "The reason behind is probably both of political and of administrative nature," he said, attributing some of the blame on negative press.

The European Parliament had also highlighted the Ideas Lab in a report out earlier this year on how its spends its own overall budget.

It says the lab is "supposed to be at the disposal" of MEPs. It then described the Ideas Lab as an "innovative architectural solution" to make better used of unused showers in MEPs offices.

An EUobserver visit to the lab on Tuesday (18 June) found it furnished with a small desk and two chairs, several screens, a virtual dictaphone, and what appears to be an unused mobile studio.

The Ideas Lab - with its €11,000 glazed partitions - which can open up to MEP Rainer Wieland's €486,000 office (Photo: EUobserver)



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