|Series Title||European Voice|
|Series Details||08/02/96, Volume 2, Number 06|
EUROPEAN Commission President Jacques Santer has appealed directly to Belgian Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene to intervene in the long-running dispute over the increasingly cramped conditions in the two European schools in Brussels.
Santer took the highly unusual step of contacting Dehaene last week as concern grew among staff and parents alike at the safety implications of overcrowded classrooms, particularly at the European school in Woluwe.
His letter to the Belgian premier expresses, in forthright language, his “utmost concern at the problems of overcrowding and lack of safety which prevail in these establishments” and urges Dehaene to take all the measures required to combat the problem, including speeding up work on the various extensions needed to relieve the pressure in both schools.
The arrival of Finnish and Swedish pupils last September added to existing problems at Woluwe. The school had already been forced to increase class sizes and use storage areas, window-less rooms and part of the sports hall cafeteria as temporary classrooms.
Dehaene's office confirmed on Tuesday (6 February): “The prime minister knows about the letter, but the minister responsible is André Flahaut (Régie des Bâtiments). It is up to him to see what he can do and to answer it.”
Dehaene has, however, raised the issues contained in the letter with Flahaut and
the two are expected to give the Commission president a detailed response within a few days.
Santer's intervention is designed to break the current log-jam, which critics claim is caused by Belgium's different federal, regional and communal departments passing the buck. The long-running saga is further complicated by the budgetary difficulties facing the country's educational system.
As host, Belgium is responsible for providing and maintaining the buildings and ensuring health and safety standards are observed for the 6,000 pupils, most of whom are the children of EU officials.
Last week, the school's board of governors accused the country of failing to honour its obligations and similar complaints are expected to be raised by individual national authorities.
The increasingly vocal criticism of the situation coincides with accusations that Belgium did not follow EU rules last year when it invited firms to tender for contracts to build a third European school in Brussels, designed to tackle the problem of overcrowding and to prepare for the arrival of new member countries.
The European Commission has opened legal proceedings against the Belgian authorities for allegedly not respecting procedures designed to ensure that such contracts are open to bids from throughout the Union, and not just to Belgian firms. Ironically, the challenge could delay completion of the new school for up to a year.
“The European Commission has to tread a very careful line. We need to keep everything in proportion and we understand the difficulties facing the Belgian government, but suitable conditions must apply in the schools and EU procedures must be respected,” said one senior official.
In his letter, Santer complains about the failure to start work on building extensions at the Woluwe school as agreed last autumn, the absence of a clear timetable and the failure to remedy safety defects, earlier identified by the fire service, by the start of the year.
The Uccle school is still waiting for the overall building plan promised by Belgium's Régie des Bâtiments and for the construction of science laboratories and sports rooms.
|Subject Categories||Culture, Education and Research, Politics and International Relations|
|Countries / Regions||Belgium|