EU promises ‘facelift’ for Brussels’ European quarter

Commission Vice-President Siim Kallas and Minister-President of the Brussels-Capital Region Charles Picqué unveiled joint plans for a major revamp of the European quarter in Brussels on 5 September.

Hailed by Mr. Kallas as an “historic moment”, the plan reflects the Commission’s desire to rationalise the location of its buildings and the way in which it manages its real estate, as well as a wish – shared by the Brussels Region – to revitalise the European quarter in general. 

The present plan confirms the decentralisation of certain services – a process which began three years ago – and envisages the development of three further locations beyond the focal point of the current European quarter around the Schuman roundabout. 

Moreover, the plan aims to put to bed any lingering perceptions of Brussels’ European quarter as a soulless administrative district by developing a “truly mixed neighbourhood” that incorporates “a centre of European and international activity” with a “cultural and recreation centre accessible to all”, said Picqué. 

New accommodation, shops and services will be created in the Rue de la Loi area to give the area a more ‘human’ feel. “The idea is to have less buildings but bigger buildings”, said Kallas. “That will allow us to free space for people for living, for commercial space, for open space”, he stated – adding that creating a “much better human face for the European quarter” is his “priority”. 

Furthermore, Picqué spoke of avoiding “a ghetto effect”, describing the decentralisation of new buildings as a “good thing” and adding that “there is nothing worse than having a European quarter which is a kind of fortress, closed upon itself with a different status from the rest of the city”. 

The Commission insists that the current proposal is “fully consistent” with its overall buildings policy, which seeks to consolidate its services “within fewer office buildings of at least 50 to 100, 000 m²”. 

The new plan includes innovations in real-estate policy, which the Commission believes will offer “better value for money”: 

  • Publication of a needs-estimate for the current year and subsequent four years in the Official Journal, providing “better information for the market”.
  • Publication of proposed real-estate projects in the Official Journal, offering “increased market transparency”. 
  • Systematic invitation to tender for the purchase or rental of buildings, with a new guide due for publication in 2008. 

Moreover, the Commission states that the plan allows it to expand its acquisitions while observing “the guiding principles concerning the architectural value and integrity of the buildings, security, work environment and social welfare facilities”, and insists that its carbon footprint reduction strategy – including the control of carbon dioxide emissions from buildings – is “an integral part of the programme”. 

The design of the new buildings on Rue de la Loi will be subject to an “international architecture competition”, Kallas said. 

The Commission emphasised that the plan will “optimise” public transport links and “improve” coordination of building management. 

Finally, reports also mentioned plans to reduce traffic on Rue de la Loi from the current four lanes to two, as well as a new underground road tunnel and a new square between Rue d’Arlon and Rue de Trêves. 

Positions

Commission Vice-President Siim Kallas stated: "Agreement among our institutions on far-reaching redevelopment of the European quarter marks an historic moment: one in which we turn our back on the image of a lifeless, unassimilated administrative ghetto which still clings to the European quarter." 

He added: "We have here a large amount of small buildings, and as Mr. Picqué explained, the idea is to have less buildings but bigger buildings. That will allow us to free space for people for living, for commercial space, for open space as architects have suggested... and it will be our priority to have this much better human face of the European quarter." 

Minister-President of the Brussels-Capital Region Charles Picqué – responsible for urban planning within the government of Brussels – said: "The master plan aims at making the European quarter a truly mixed neighbourhood, bringing together a centre of European and international activity, a diversified residential area and a cultural and recreation centre accessible to all". 

He added: "I think that this decentralisation is a good thing because the decentralisation of new buildings will avoid the existence of a ghetto effect. There is nothing worse than having a European quarter which is a kind of fortress close upon itself with a different status from the rest of the city. I'm in favour of decentralisation and Kallas isn't against it." 

Background

The Commission occupies an area of 865, 000 m² in Brussels, with 61 buildings spread across the city. Its declared expenditure on buildings for 2007 is €207.49 million, mainly comprising the purchase and rent of buildings. 

Yesterday's proposal from the Commission and Brussels Capital-Region incorporates 400, 000 m² of Commission property on each side of the Rue de la Loi – thus involving the construction of some 220, 000 m² of new office space there - as well as 180, 000 m² set aside for housing throughout the European quarter, and in particular along Rue Lalaing, Rue Orban and Rue Guimard. 

Conscious of criticism in the past concerning Commission buildings policy – and particularly its Berlaymont centrepiece – Kallas and Picqué were keen to emphasise that yesterday's plan offers "better value for money". 

Vacated by staff in 1991, the Commission's Berlaymont headquarters finally reopened in 2004 after a thirteen-year, €1 billion renovation programme triggered by safety fears related to the asbestos used for insulation purposes. 

Timeline

  • Date as yet unspecified: International architecture competition concerning the re-design of the Rue de la Loi area launched. 
  • 2009: Winning design announced. 

Further Reading

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