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22nd Feb 2020

EU commission considers major relocation in Brussels

  • The European Commission's next location could have a view of the Atomium. (Photo: IAEA)

The area surrounding the Atomium, an atom-shaped structure seen on every Brussels postcard, might become a location for some of the European Commission's buildings, according to a draft project developed by the city of Brussels and seen by EUobserver.

The draft, entitled "Application file for the Heysel plain to host a new European quarter," dates back to 15 September 2008.

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Placed right next to the Atomium, the Heysel area lies four kilometres north from the centre of the Belgian capital and the European quarter where the commission currently sits.

"By establishing itself in Heysel, the EU would affirm its imprint on the capital city and would extend its zone of influence outside the Leopold quarter," the draft paper argues.

The city of Brussels had decided to allocate this area to "infrastructures dedicated to the international vocation of Brussels" and planned to erect a convention centre of "international dimensions" with a capacity of 3,500 seats and an "important commercial centre."

The area is already dominated by fairs and exhibition centres on the grounds of the former 1958 World Fair, when the Atomium was built.

The city of Brussels calls for a quick decision, since the EU institutions were not "the only possible alternative for the proposed terrains."

Commission spokeswoman Valerie Rampi confirmed that the EU executive was considering several proposals for a new location. The commission would not relocate its headquarters, but needed additional office space of at least 100,000 square metres from 2014 onwards, she said.

Nine proposals were received by 15 September, the Heysel project being one of them. The college of commissioners is expected to take a decision on the proposals in the first half of this year, she added.

The European quarter would continue to remain the centre of the commission's activities, but the body was also looking for "additional poles outside" this central area, in order to exert a downward pressure on real estate prices, Siim Kallas, EU commissioner for administrative affairs told the Belgian weekly Brussels Deze Week in December.

MEP calls for more transparency

German MEP Ingeborg Grassle has criticised the secrecy surrounding the commission's decision-making process and called for transparency concerning the various offers and the final decision.

"I am opposed to the commission sweeping everything under the carpet. They can say anything. Of course the decision has not been taken yet, but the citizens deserve to know what is going on behind the scenes," Ms Grassle told the EUobserver.

She was particularly concerned that one of Mr Kallas' special advisors, Richard Boomer is a Belgian real estate developer whose partner, Paul Delesenne, was one of the authors of the Heysel proposal.

Ms Rampi underlined that this special advisor was not involved in any decision-making process and that commissioner Kallas had "full confidence and trust in Mr Boomer." There was no conflict of interest concerning Mr Boomer's activities, the spokeswoman said.

Commission has 61 buildings in Brussels

The commission's current buildings policy is to restrain the number of locations under the principle of "fewer and bigger," Ms Rampi said.

Currently, the EU executive occupies 61 buildings in Brussels, or a total of 865,000 square metres. Some of the buildings are owned by the commission, while others are rented. The commission spent €207.49 million on buildings in 2007.

According to the commission's building policy, which dates back to 2007, the accession of 10 new member states in 2004 and of Romania and Bulgaria in 2007 meant that a total of 3,350 additional officials required home and office accommodation in Brussels, as well as nursery and childcare facilities.

The additional office requirements between 2007 and 2010 were estimated to be 35,000 square metres.

The main criteria for selecting a new location, according to the commission's policy, were good public transport connections with the European quarter, good architectural and technical qualities in the buildings, good integration in the urban environment, a retail presence and good value for money.

According to the draft project, the Heysel area lies on a direct subway line connecting it to the European quarter and is to host a new branch of the European school, where EU officials educate their children in their native tongues.

The existing parking facilities - the biggest in Belgium - were also presented as a plus, as well as the planned new residential area and the proximity of parks and leisure facilities.

Correction: Mr Boomer and Mr Delesenne are no longer real estate partners. They have been in the past, before Mr Boomer became a special advisor to commissioner Siim Kallas.

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