Wednesday

1st Apr 2020

EU suspends meetings after Brussels blasts

[Updated at 13.00] The European Commission and EU Council have suspended most meetings after deadly bomb blasts in Brussels on Tuesday (22 March) morning, but some EU staff insisted they would carry on working.

“All meetings on premises and outside cancelled, access only for staff with badges,” human resources commissioner Kristalina Georgieva said on Twitter shortly after news of a blast at the Maelbeek metro station near the commission's headquarters.

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The security level was raised from yellow to orange, the second highest.

In the morning, commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and Georgieva went into the institution's emergency room to coordinate security measures and instructions to the staff, a source told EUobserver.

The building of directorate-general for agriculture, just above the Maelbeek station on Brussels' rue de la Loi, was evacuated.

The daily press briefing took place normally. “We live free, we stay safe," the head of the commission’s press service, Margaritis Schinas, said on Twitter.

The commission's response would be "calm and sober," Schinas told journalists.

He said the commission was "actively engaged in accounting for all of our staff".

An official said it was difficult to assess whether any of the commission's civil servants had been caught in the attacks.

Many staff were on holiday ahead of the Easter weekend or away at a mission, and others had not arrived because of the traffic or the closure of the public transport network, the official said.

But there were fears that some EU staff were at the airport on their way to a mission, the first source told EUobserver.

The press service of the EU Council, across the road from the commission, said: “All meetings cancelled this morning. Priority to ensure safety of staff and visitors.”

Council chief Donald Tusk said: “The European institutions are hosted in Brussels thanks to the generosity of Belgium's government and its people.

"The European Union returns this solidarity now and will fulfil its role to help Brussels, Belgium and Europe as a whole counter the terror threat which we are all facing.”

British centre-left MEP Richard Howitt said the European Parliament had also urged staff to stay in place, tweeting: “The European Parliament is in lockdown after bombs which are now said to be in four metro stations. We are inside but safe.”

Brussels-based European Central Bank communications officer Peter Ehrlich tweeted that parliament would continue working.

He quoted members of the economic affairs committee and EU banking supervision agency chair Daniele Nouy as saying “life and work have to go on despite terror”.

Other EU officials also sent out messages on social media after mobile phone networks became saturated.

The EU’s ambassador to the US, David O'Sullivan, wrote from Washington: “Awful news this morning from Brussels, my adopted city. Thoughts go out to all those involved, and their families.”

Trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem said she was aboard a plane that was about to land at Brussels airport when the explosions forced the pilot to reroute.

“Thoughts go to all affected by terrible acts of terror. Unacceptable attack on our free society,” she said.

The international schools which cater for EU officials’ children were in any case closed for the Easter break.

But Belgian authorities have warned everybody to stay home for the time being.

"Brussels is essentially in lockdown," Belgian prime minister Charles Michel said.

EU leaders from around Europe sent condolences to Belgium.

"Through the Brussels attacks, the whole of Europe has been hit," French president Francois Hollande said.

"Greece stands in solidarity with the citizens of Belgium and EU. We can't allow fear, religious hatred and racism to prevail in Europe," Greek PM Alexis Tsipras said.

Spanish leader Mario Rajoy said: "Terrorism will not be able to defeat us."

Messages of support also came in from further afield, including India, Pakistan, and Russia.

The office of Russian president Vladimir Putin said: “The fight against this evil demands the highest level of active international cooperation.”

But the Russian foreign ministry's spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the attacks are due to "double standards" in Western foreign policy.

The eurosceptic British party Ukip put out a press release blaming the events on Europe’s Schengen passport-free travel area as part of its campaign in the British EU referendum.

Social media users were quick to pour scorn on the statement, accusing the party of bad taste.

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