European Quarter in Brussels

Sunday, 5 February 2023 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General, EU blog post series, European Union
Reading Time:  8 minutes

Rue de la Loi © flickr.com - Euro Pictures/cc-by-2.0

Rue de la Loi © flickr.com – Euro Pictures/cc-by-2.0

Most of the European Union’s Brussels-based institutions are located within its European Quarter (French: Quartier Européen, Dutch: Europese Wijk), which is the unofficial name of the area corresponding to the approximate triangle between Brussels Park, Cinquantenaire Park and Leopold Park (with the European Parliament’s hemicycle extending into the latter). The Commission and Council are located on either side of the Rue de la Loi at the heart of this area near Schuman railway station and the Robert Schuman Roundabout.

The European Parliament is located over Brussels-Luxembourg railway station, next to the Place du Luxembourg/Luxemburgplein. The area, much of which was known as the Leopold Quarter for most of its history, was historically residential, an aspect which was rapidly lost as the institutions moved in, although the change from a residential area to a more office oriented one had already been underway for some time before the arrival of the European institutions.

Historical and residential buildings, although still present, have been largely replaced by modern offices. These buildings were built not according to a high quality master plan or government initiative, but according to speculative private sector construction of office space, without which most buildings of the institutions would not have been built. However, due to Brussels’s attempts to consolidate its position, there was large government investment in infrastructure in the quarter. Authorities are keen to stress that the previous chaotic development has ended, being replaced by planned architectural competitions and a master plan. The architect Benoit Moritz has argued that the area has been an elite enclave surrounded by poorer districts since the mid-19th century, and that the contrast today is comparable to an Indian city. However, he also said that the city has made progress over the last decade in mixing land uses, bringing in more businesses and residences, and that the institutions are more open to “interacting” with the city.

The quarter’s land-use is very homogenous and criticised by some, for example the former Commission President, Romano Prodi, for being an administrative ghetto isolated from the rest of the city (though this view is not shared by all). There is also a perceived lack of symbolism, with some such as the architect Rem Koolhaas proposing that Brussels needs an architectural symbol to represent Europe (akin to the Eiffel Tower or Colosseum). Others do not think this is in keeping with the idea of the EU, with the novelist Umberto Eco viewing Brussels as a “soft capital”; rather than it being an “imperial city” of an empire, it should reflect the EU’s position as the “server” of Europe. Despite this, the plans for redevelopment intend to deal with a certain extent of visual identity in the quarter.

Europa building, seat of the European Council © flickr.com - Fred Romero/cc-by-2.0 Justus Lipsius building, housing the Council's Secretariat © JLogan/cc-by-3.0 Paul-Henri Spaak building © EmDee/cc-by-sa-4.0 Place du Luxembourg/Luxemburgplein © JLogan/cc-by-3.0 Rue de la Loi © flickr.com - Euro Pictures/cc-by-2.0 Altiero Spinelli building © EmDee/cc-by-sa-4.0 Berlaymont building, primary headquarters of the European Commission © EmDee/cc-by-sa-4.0 Charlemagne building, housing DG Trade, DG ECFIN and the Internal Audit Service © JLogan/cc-by-sa-3.0 Espace Léopold buildings, housing the European Parliament ©Andrijko Z./cc-by-sa-4.0
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Charlemagne building, housing DG Trade, DG ECFIN and the Internal Audit Service © JLogan/cc-by-sa-3.0
The most iconic structure is the Berlaymont building, the primary seat of the commission. It was the first building to be constructed for the Community, originally built in the 1960s. It was designed by Lucien De Vestel, Jean Gilson, André Polak and Jean Polak and paid for by the Belgian Government (who could occupy it if the Commission left Brussels). It was inspired by the UNESCO headquarters building in Paris, designed as a four-pointed star on supporting columns, and at the time an ambitious design. Originally built with flock asbestos, the building was renovated in the 1990s to remove it and renovate the ageing building to cope with enlargement. After a period of exile in the Breydel building on the Avenue d’Auderghem, the Commission reoccupied the Berlaymont from 2005 and bought the building for €550 million. The president of the Commission occupies the largest office, near the commission’s meeting room on the top (13th) floor. Although the main Commission building, it houses only 2,000 out of the 20,000 Commission officials based in Brussels. In addition to the Commissioners and their cabinets, the Berlaymont also houses the commission’s Secretariat-General and Legal Service. Across the quarter the Commission occupies 865,000 m² (9,310,783 sq ft) in 61 buildings with the Berlaymont and Charlemagne buildings the only ones over 50,000 m² (538,196 sq ft).

Across the Rue de la Loi from the Berlayont is the Europa building, which the Council of the European Union and the European Council have used as their headquarters since the beginning of 2017. Their former home in the adjacent Justus Lipsius building is still used for low-level meetings and to house the Council’s Secretariat, which has been located in Brussels’ city centre and the Charlemagne building during the course of its history. The renovation and construction of the new Council building was intended to change the image the European Quarter, and was designed by the architect Philippe Samyn to be a “feminine” and “jazzy” building to contrast with the hard, more “masculine” architecture of other EU buildings. The building features a “lantern shaped” structure surrounded by a glass atrium made up of recycled windows from across Europe, intended to appear “united from afar but showing their diversity up close.”

The European Parliament‘s buildings are located to the south between Leopold Park and the Place du Luxembourg, over Brussels-Luxembourg Station, which is underground. The complex, known as the “Espace Léopold” (or “Leopoldsruimte” in Dutch), has two main buildings: the Paul-Henri Spaak building and the Altiero Spinelli building, which cover 372,000 m² (4,004,175 sq ft). The complex is not the official seat of the Parliament with its work being split with Strasbourg (its official seat) and Luxembourg (its secretariat). However, the decision-making bodies of the Parliament, along with its committees and some of its plenary sessions, are held in Brussels to the extent that three-quarters of its activity take place in the city. The Parliament buildings were extended with the new D4 and D5 buildings being completed and occupied in 2007 and 2008. It is believed the complex now provides enough space for the Parliament with no major new building projects foreseen.

The European External Action Service (EEAS) has been based in the Triangle building since 1 December 2010. The EEAS’s bodies related to the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) are situated in the Kortenberg building. The Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions together occupy the Delors building, which is next to Leopold Park and used to be occupied by the Parliament. They also use the office building Bertha von Suttner. Both buildings were named in 2006. Brussels also hosts two additional EU agencies: the European Defence Agency (located on the Rue des Drapiers/Lakenweversstraat) and the Executive Agency for Competitiveness and Innovation (in Madou Plaza Tower in Saint-Josse-ten-Noode). There is also EUROCONTROL, a semi-EU air traffic control agency covering much of Europe and the Western European Union, which is a non-EU military organisation currently merging into the EU’s CFSP, and is headquartered in Haren, on the north-eastern perimeter of the City of Brussels.

Read more on europa.eu – European Quarter Explorer and Wikipedia European Quarter (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by weather.com - Global Passport Power Rank - Travel Risk Map - Democracy Index - GDP according to IMF, UN, and World Bank - Global Competitiveness Report - Corruption Perceptions Index - Press Freedom Index - World Justice Project - Rule of Law Index - UN Human Development Index - Global Peace Index - Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.




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