28th Jul 2021

European parliament struggles to baptise new buildings

  • A recent poll saw 1/3 vote for naming the building after former German socialist chancellor Willy Brandt (Photo: EUobserver)

While the finishing touches on the new extensions of the European Parliament complex in Brussels are being done, the name - or the names - of the new buildings are slowly beginning to be discussed.

And of course it's not just a name. It's political. It's about where the person comes from, what political party they belong to and what they did to deserve having a Brussels edifice named after them.

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The buildings – currently named the rather prosaic D4 and D5 – are situated on Luxembourg Square and attached with walkways to the main parliament building named Altiero Spinelli - who was an Italian anti-fascist and an advocate of European unification.

D4 has already since July been occupied by the MEPs from the extreme rightwing political group ITS and the euro-sceptic Ind/Dem group as well as the parliament's directorate-general for external affairs in some of the 375 offices.

D5, which has yet to be finished, will house 5 conference rooms and new press facilities.

The old entrance to the former Leopold Quarter Station will become a public information office while the complex also will include a museum of Europe.

The mentioning of names for the new buildings started already in 2005 when centre-right Polish MEPs tried to get the new buildings named after pope John Paul II who had recently died.

They argued the pope had contributed to the collapse of communism and the re-union of Europe.

What's in a name?

However, several liberal, socialists and green MEPs argued that the parliament building should be named after those who contributed to the foundation of the European Parliament and giving the name of a religious leader to these buildings would contradict principles of secularism.

In a recent poll on the parliaments internal network on naming the D4 building, nearly 32 percent of 324 voters favoured naming it after former German socialist chancellor and MEP from 1979-1983, Willy Brandt.

Although the poll was "utterly unserious" – as one parliament insider described it – it featured other suggestions, such as Nelson Mandela (former president of South Africa), Olof Palme (former Swedish prime minister), Karol Josef Wojtyla (pope John Paul II), Vaclav Havel (first president of the Czech Republic) and the Kaczynski Towers - after the current leaders of Poland.

The only female to be suggested was former UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher, most famous in Brussels for her fight in the 1980s to get a rebate on the UK's contribution to the EU budget paid back to London by the EU.

From a new member state?

It is the parliament's body dealing with budget, administration, organisation and staff - the so-called Bureau – who will finally decide the name – or the names – of the new complex.

It was in 1998 that the body decided to start naming their work buildings after well-known European historical figures who represent the different currents of ideas which marked the initial years of European integration.

The decision of a new name is not scheduled at any of the Bureau's two meetings this week. The Bureau is composed of the president of the European Parliament along with all 14 vice-presidents and 6 consultative Quaestors.

"There will at least be one name of a person from a new member state," French green MEP Gerard Onesta told EUobserver. He explained that the Bureau has also yet to decide whether there should be one name for the whole new building complex or whether BD4, BD5 and the old station would have different names.

"I prefer a name for each building and at least one of them named after a woman," Mr Onesta added.

A parliament building in Strasbourg was in July named after the former parliament president and long-time Strasbourg mayor Pierre Pflimlin - after the name was proposed by the parliament's biggest group, centre-right EPP-ED.

Another parliament insider told EUobserver that it was about time that parliament buildings were named after persons from some of the smaller groups as the "big groups always get their people."

The other buildings in Brussels are already named after Paul Henri Spaak – a Belgian socialist politician, and Bertha Von Suttner - an Austrian writer and pacifist born in Prague and a keen believer in a united Europe as the only means of keeping the peace.

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