|Vol.7, No.28, 12.7.01, p4
THE European Commission expects to clinch a deal in the autumn which will finally allow it to return to its old headquarters in Brussels' Berlaymont building within the next few years.
After months of meetings between internal reform chief Neil Kinnock and Belgium's public works minister Rik Daems on the future of the 200,000-square-metre site, hopes are high that the pair will reach an agreement on how much the EU executive will pay to purchase its old home in the coming weeks.
Kinnock's spokesman Eric Mamer said the accord is likely to involve the updating of a 1997 "memorandum of understanding" which was signed with the Belgian government and Berlaymont 2000, a "not-for-profit" a company which is 707 owned by the Belgian state and 307 by the banks Bacob and CGER, now known as Fortis.
The latter firm has been overseeing the renovation of the building, vacated in 1991 after it was revealed that the condition of asbestos used in its construction had worsened to unsafe levels.
Under the 1997 deal, it was agreed that the Belgian government would pay the asbestos removal costs (of at least €100 million), while the Commission would pay for the renovation and eventual purchase of the building.
Estimates of the bill faced by the EU executive have ranged from its own figure of €374 million to one cited in a report by two Belgian senators earlier this year of €1.1 billion. At present, Berlaymont 2000 has a 99-year lease on the site situated by Rond Point Schuman. "The figure that will be most important in the end is the one which the Commission is willing to pay," added Mamer. "The price will have to be a fair one - we shouldn't compromise on the idea of getting a good deal."
While few officials expect the Commission to re-occupy the building before 2003, there have been suggestions recently that it could be used during EU summits by late 2002.
However, the 1997 memo states that the Commission will only move back if "renovation was completed satisfactorily and according to best practice". Questions have been raised about whether this 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.
The European Commission expects to clinch a deal in autumn 2001 which will finally allow it to return to its old headquarters in Brussels' Berlaymont building within the next few years.
|Politics and International Relations