Tuesday

20th Feb 2018

'Tusk Tower' good for leaders, not staff

  • Tusk Tower named by reference to Trump Tower in New York (Photo: Consilium)

There was, of course, the re-election of Donald Tusk as European Council president and the unprecedented Polish attempt to block the adoption of the meeting conclusions.

But for many, the real interest of this week's EU summit in Brussels was the new Europa building, where heads of state and government met for the first time.

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  • Kindergarten colours meant to keep people awake, one leader said (Photo: Consilium)

As an indication of the excitement around the cube-shaped building, many diplomats and journalists have started to call it "Tusk Tower", in reference to the Trump Tower in New York.

For leaders, the first experience of it was a seemingly endless red carpet from their car to the press waiting for "doorsteps", the short statements many of them give when arriving or leaving the summit.

Most of them walked down the carpet their eyes looking up to the giant atrium and the "lantern", which holds the meeting rooms.

Upstairs on the third floor, they discovered the meeting room itself, its floor and the ceiling covered with multicoloured wool carpet. In the middle of the large oval table, council services had added plants to hide the cameras.

"Most of them liked it, even if some of them joked that it looks like a kindergarten," an EU diplomat who was in the room with EU leaders told EUobserver.

Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite tweeted about the "screaming colours" made to "keep everyone awake" and compared the building to a "space egg".

Later on Thursday, they inaugurated the dining room on the 11th floor, where light streams in through a skylight.

Despite the acrimonious debates, the first summit in the new premises "worked better than many had feared", the diplomat said.

Diplomats based in Brussels, working in the Europa building since January, had been pessimistic, many still pointing to the building's shortcomings.

"It's a mess," a member state source had said earlier this week, describing labyrinthine corridors and walls being knocked down at the last minute.

"The last two months were terrible," another source said, referring to the minister's meetings that had taken place. "There is not enough space. The corridors, the doors, the elevators are too small. I wrote to my capital to warn them about possible problems at the summit."

A third official working there regularly said that the rooms where ministers aides can listen to discussions were too small, with not enough seats.

Diplomats and staff also complained that going from the Europa, where leaders meet, to the old Justus Lipsius next to it, where journalists are still working, was not really practical.

Some council staff were less negative.

"People are always unhappy when there is a change", one of them said. He said that only one wall had been knocked down, to enlarge a door.

He also pointed out that part of the building surrounding the lantern is an old listed building which blocks any alteration of the facade, entrances or main corridors.

Council officials also insisted that the new building was, above all, made for leaders, so they can work in a quieter atmosphere, around a smaller table, where they can see and hear each other without screens or microphones.

"The atmosphere was very optimistic … at least for me", Tusk quipped after his reelection at the summit.

Germany's Angela Merkel, in her understated style, noted that "the atmosphere in the new room was different than in past".

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