'Important' crack shuts MEPs' chamber for months
The EU parliament's plenary chamber in Brussels is to stay closed for "at least" six months due to a crack in the roof.
The parliament said in a statement on Tuesday (9 October) that one of the curved, horizontal beams which supports the 750-seat chamber's cavernous ceiling, had a "weak spot" when it was put in.
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The spot became "fragile" with "ageing," causing an "important crack." The fissure increased weight on two other beams "which made them crack too."
It noted that repair work is "expected to take at least six months."
The chamber is largely unused anyway because most plenary sessions take place in the parliament's second home in Strasbourg.
But MEPs already had to cancel one Brussels "mini-plenary" in November and to evacuate 200 staff from part of the building because of the problem. The six-month lag means another mini-plenary, due in February, is also unlikely to take place.
Marjory van den Broeke, a parliament spokeswoman, said some November business was put on the shelf, while other items, such as a debate on the EU's next seven-year budget, were moved to the October session in Strasbourg.
"It took quite a lot of juggling to get it right for Strasbourg in October," she noted.
She added that the six-month timeline could change because officials have not yet decided how to fix the damage or hired a company to do the work.
Meanwhile, chat in the corridors of the assembly says building inspectors found other, more serious problems with the 20-year-old so-called Paul Henri Spaak builidng.
But parliament's top spokesman Jaume Duch told EUobserver it is not true.
"I'm sorry, but these are just rumours ... Depending on the kind of work we will have to do in the hemicycle [the plenary chamber], we might have to stop people from working in parts of the building around it. But this would only be one section of the building," he said.
For her part, Van den Broeke noted that the hemicycle ceiling is currently being held up by a "shoring structure."
Another contact noted: "The parliament is still standing. I am still working in the building and I haven't made my will yet."
The latest problem recalls events in 2008, when a large chunk of the ceiling in the Strasbourg plenary chamber fell onto MEPs' seats during the summer break.
A much smaller chunk of the ceiling also fell down in a parliament office in Strasbourg in 2009.