|Vol.7, No.40, 1.11.01, p3
COMMISSION Vice-President Neil Kinnock is being asked to halt the spiralling costs of the EU executive's newly refurbished home in Brussels, with the final bill now likely to hit €625 million - three times more than the original budget.
British Conservative MEP Chris Heaton-Harris has asked Kinnock to appear before the Parliament's budgetary control committee to explain why the costs of renovating the Berlaymont have risen so dramatically. "The Berlaymont is the European equivalent of London's Millennium Dome," he said. "It's a typical Commission disaster."
The headquarters closed ten years ago for a major refit after asbestos was found in the walls and ceilings. It should have been ready by January 2000 but the 1,400 tonnes of asbestos took longer than expected to remove and the most optimistic date for the opening is late 2003.
Heaton-Harris said that Kinnock himself was doing a good job negotiating with the 70 state-owned Belgian company overseeing the renovations, but the MEP maintained that the vice-president would be "handed the keys to a building which the Commission no longer wants and will be asked to pay a huge sum for this enormous white elephant". "The cost seems to be rising all the time so I have asked Kinnock to tell the committee just what he intends do about this," added Heaton-Harris. When complete, the Belgian government is expected to hand over the 200,000-square-metre building at
Rond Point Schuman to the European Commission, which will foot most of the bill. (Belgium is bearing the cost of the asbestos removal). Kinnock has until the end of December to agree what price the Commission will pay with the Belgian minister responsible, Rik Daems. The long-running saga of the European Union's showpiece building dates back to 1991 when 3,000 workers had to be evacuated from the complex after asbestos in the walls and ceilings began degrading and floating around the offices.
It was claimed that demolishing it would have had a detrimental effect on railways, roads and buildings nearby and would have deprived Brussels of a landmark so the Belgians decided to remove the asbestos and refurbish it. Kinnock's spokesman, Eric Mamer, stressed: "The Commission is a potential buyer for the Berlaymont but only if the conditions are right but we will not pay for any management errors." This was underlined in a 1997 'memorandum of understanding' with Belgium that stated the Commission would only return if the "renovation was completed satisfactorily and according to best practice".
Questions have been raised about whether these criteria will be met, especially since the Commission has decided to refer a case involving one of the contractors hired to work on the project to its anti-fraud office, OLAF. Earlier this year, two Belgian senators claimed in a report that the final bill for the Berlaymont could be as much as 1.1 billion euro.
The building will house Commission President Romano Prodi and his staff.
Commission vice-president Neil Kinnock is being asked to halt the spiralling costs of the EU executive's newly refurbished home in Brussels, with the final bill now likely to hit €625 million - three times more than the original budget.
|Politics and International Relations