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Brussels, 5 March 2009

The Commission's buildings policy in Brussels

(1) Background

The scale of the European institutions' presence in Brussels

Brussels has been the official seat of the Council, the Commission, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions since the entry into force of the Treaty of Amsterdam (1997). As a result, the Belgian capital is the second most important "diplomatic" city in the world. The European quarter is now the city's most important service district with approximately 3.4 million square metres of office space, more than half of which is occupied by the EU and associated bodies.

The total surface area of the buildings occupied by the European institutions in Brussels is 1.9 million square metres, 1 million of which is used by the European Commission and its executive agencies. This 1 million square metres comprises about 919 000 square metres of actual office space, spread over 55 different buildings[1], with the remainder being used for conference facilities, logistics buildings, three crèches and two central after-school childcare facilities.

How much does the European Commission spend on buildings in Brussels every year?

The Commission's buildings expenditure for 2008 was EUR 206.9 million. This amount is made up of EUR 77.4 million in rent[2] and EUR 129.5 million in expenditure on property purchases[3].

What are the Commission's building requirements for the coming years?

In summer 2008 the Commission published a building prospection notice for an additional 17 800 square metres of office space in the European quarter for 2008-2009, to meet the latest needs resulting from the increase in staff due to the recent enlargements.

The requirements announced for 2013 (70 000 square metres) and 2014 (100 000 square metres) take into account the expiry of certain leases and the restructuring of the property portfolio (removals, renovation and building work, etc.).

Who manages the Commission's buildings policy in Brussels?

DG Personnel and Administration is responsible for framing the Commission's buildings policy and for monitoring its implementation; the actual implementation has been delegated to two Offices for Infrastructure and Logistics, one in Brussels (OIB) and one in Luxembourg (OIL). DG Personnel and Administration and these two administrative offices are answerable to the Commissioner responsible for administration. The offices are responsible for purchasing and renting buildings and for their operational maintenance (technical maintenance, improvements, removals, cleaning and waste management)[4]. Finally, a special advisor, Mr Richard Boomer, advises the Commissioner on buildings policy and prospects in the long term.

(2) Key concepts in the Commission's buildings policy

What are the guiding principles of the Commission's buildings policy in Brussels?

In a communication of September 2007[5] the Commission restated the main principles of its buildings policy. In particular, it confirmed its intention of maintaining a strong symbolic presence in the European quarter, while at the same time decentralising some departments to sites outside the traditional hub and developing a single pole of between 100 000 and 250 000 square metres or, alternatively, up to three poles of at least 100 000 square metres each.

What is the Commission's strategy for selecting new sites in Brussels?

The main criteria are good public transport connections with the European quarter, good architectural and technical qualities in the buildings, good integration in the urban environment, a retail presence and, of course, good value for money. The Commission also aims to acquire new properties that are big enough to allow its departments to be regrouped in larger buildings better suited to their needs. At the moment, many departments are spread over several buildings.

Reducing the Commission's carbon footprint is a cross-cutting objective to be achieved by lessening the buildings' carbon emissions, optimising their public transport links and improving synergy in building management.

(3) The European Commission in the European quarter of Brussels

What is the purpose of the urban design competition for the European quarter launched by the Brussels-Capital Region last spring?

The competition is part of the master plan adopted by the Brussels regional government in April 2008, which aims to make the European quarter a genuinely mixed neighbourhood, combining European and international economic activities, a range of residential accommodation and cultural and leisure facilities. The aim of the competition, which focuses on the district around the rue de la Loi, between the Maelbeek and Arts-Loi metro stations, is to design a new urban model for the neighbourhood, defining the functions[6], the respective volumes, the public spaces and defining features, such as streets and junctions. The winner, to be announced on 5 March 2009, will be tasked within developing the urban model proposed and studying the economic cost of the project. Only then will architectural competitions be launched for specific sites or buildings.

What is the Commission's role in the competition launched last year to redesign the European quarter?

The Brussels-Capital Region launched the competition in close cooperation with the European Commission and the City of Brussels. The Region is the contracting authority for the project. As such it is responsible for organising the competition, taking decisions (after consulting an advisory committee), monitoring progress and ensuring completion of the project.

The Commission's involvement is confined to sending two representatives to sit on the advisory committee alongside representatives of the City of Brussels and selected international experts, and financing the travel costs of these international experts. The Commission is the only European institution which has buildings inside the area defined for the urban design competition: it currently occupies 170 000 square metres in the area in question, which it intends to redevelop to coincide with the competition. It wants its buildings policy to complement the impetus given by the master plan and the urban design competition. Its aim is to give the European quarter a strong, positive symbolic image as the capital of Europe by making the buildings more beautiful and more efficient and by integrating them more into their immediate surroundings in the heart of convivial areas of housing, shops, green spaces or whatever. For its new buildings the Commission also intends to organise architectural competitions to enhance the quality of its buildings and improve Europe's image.

What does the Commission hope to get out of this competition?

The Commission currently occupies 170 000 square metres inside the area covered by the competition[7] and intends to increase this to 400 000 square metres, as proposed by the Brussels authorities. These extra 230 000 square metres will not meet new needs on the part of the Commission, but will mainly be used to replace existing offices scattered around the European quarter which will be vacated. The 400 000 square metres will also include a conference centre and, if possible, social facilities.

The restructuring operation will thus have no net impact on the volume of office space, because existing buildings outside the competition area will be vacated and the departments brought together within the area in question. It will be possible to generate economies of scale by regrouping departments in bigger, more efficient buildings, ensuring a real mix of office blocks, shops and housing, as already exists at Madou Plaza, for example, and to reduce the Commission's overall environmental footprint.

(4) The European Commission outside the European quarter

What other sites does the Commission occupy outside the European quarter?

So far the European Commission is the only European institution to have decentralised some of its departments to other areas such as Beaulieu and rue de Genève in Evere. Some 124 000 of its 919 000 square metres of office space in Brussels are located outside the European quarter: the Environment, Economic and Financial Affairs and Information Society DGs are on Avenue de Beaulieu, and DG Translation and the OIB are based in Evere (rue de Genève/Da Vinci respectively).

The case for decentralisation

The policy of decentralisation, established in 2003, takes account of the fact that concentrating the European institutions' buildings in the European quarter drives up property prices by stoking demand and reducing the available space in this area. The European quarter remains one of the most expensive districts in the capital: in 2008 the prime rent reached EUR 275 per square metre, while the average annual rent was EUR 216 per square metre.

Does the Commission intend to establish any new sites outside the European quarter? If so, where?

Yes, in line with the communication on buildings policy it adopted in autumn 2007, the Commission would like not only to maintain a strong presence in the European quarter but also to develop preferably one site, or possibly up to three sites, outside this area.

With this in mind, the Commission published a request for information about possible sites in June 2008. It is looking for 100 000 square metres for 2014. This will enable it to vacate buildings on rue de la Loi so that building and renovation work can start, as provided for in the urban design competition and following the organisation of an architecture competition. The Commission is currently examining the nine dossiers it received in response to its request for information and will reach a decision in the course of the year on the basis of an analysis taking into account numerous criteria, such as accessibility, proximity to the European quarter and the site's development potential.


[1] The list of buildings can be consulted at:

[2] Including long-term leases (emphyteusis), usufruct and ordinary tenancy.

[3] Purchase with deferred payment and long-term leases with the option to buy.

[4] The OIB is also responsible for the management of social infrastructure as well as graphic reproduction, mail, transport and mobility services.


[6] i.e. how the spaces are used: offices, shops, housing, etc.

[7] This figure does not include the Berlaymont, which measures 240 000 square metres.

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