Sunday

20th Jan 2019

EU leaders to get warmth and colour

  • In their new meeting room, EU leaders will be able to talk to each other directly (Photo: Eric Maurice)

EU leaders are being offered warmth and colour in a time of political uncertainty.

Starting early next year, they will meet in a new building that is bigger, more modern, and more eco-friendly than the Justus Lipsius, which they have used for the past two decades.

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  • The Europa building with the "lantern" at night (Photo: Consilium)

The Europa building is a cube-shaped structure that contains a giant lantern and 70,000 square metres of space in the EU quarter.

Belgian architect Philippe Samyn told journalists, who were invited for a tour on Wednesday (7 December), that he did not want to create an "extravagant" landmark.

"The idea was to make a modest gesture," he said.

He said the EU Council, the institution that commissioned the building, gave him a “crystal clear brief" to create "a gathering space”.

He also said the lantern-shaped structure, which consists of an empty atrium on the ground floor, and 13 meeting rooms above, was a product of architectural constraints and “not at all a gesture”.


The building could not weigh too much because it sits on a tunnel used by cars and trains and that it had to contain meeting rooms of various sizes.

Leaders will use the plenary chamber, situated on the third floor, for the first time at a summit in March next year.

It is covered in a multicoloured wool carpet, both on the floor and the ceiling.

It was designed by a Belgian artist, Georges Meurant, and is meant, the Council said, to create "more light and a warmer atmosphere” than in the Justus Lipsius building.

It also has a round, wooden table where leaders can speak face to face, instead of via TV screens as in the old venue.

6,000 meetings

EU ministers will meet on the seventh floor, with their first event scheduled for January.

A room on the fifth floor, with 330 seats, will host "jumbo meetings”, when, for instance, EU foreign and defence ministers come together, as well as multilateral events.

The Europa building has already been used since the end of November by “working groups” of diplomats and national experts.

EU ambassadors are to meet there for the first time before Christmas.

The EU Council, the institution representing member states, organises some 6,000 meetings a year at different levels. Ministers alone meet 70 times a year.

The Justus Lipsius was designed in the 1980s when the EU had just 12 members.

It became too small to host the experts, diplomats, interpreters, clerks, and other civil servants of the 28 member states.

It will still be used for some functions, but Europa will take over all the main events.

Uncertainties

The Europa opening comes at a time of political uncertainty.

The Brexit vote means that it will soon host just 27 leaders. The new building also risks drawing fire from increasingly vocal eurosceptic groups.

Samyn and council officials said it would not exceed the planned cost of €321 million (€240 million in 2004 terms), which is to be paid from the EU budget.

Construction work began eight years ago on a site that once hosted a 1920s apartment complex, the Residence Palace.

Samyn's cube integrated listed parts of the apartment complex - the facade, entrances, and the main corridors.

The L-shaped old part will be used by member states delegations and will host the office of the European Council president.

The other sides of the cube are made of some 3,750 windows framed in wood that was sourced from around the 28 EU states.

The steel parts of the structure are painted in a colour based on samples from the dust of the Rue de la Loi, the four-lane road where the building stands, to stop it from looking dirty.

The roof has 636 solar panels, to produce electricity for the building, which also has a rain water collection system.

The lantern will be illuminated at dawn and in winter evenings until 10PM, using low-consumption LED bulbs.


"It is the lamp of Europe," Samyn said.

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