EU Parliament Building Opens
Feb. 12, 1998
BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ An immense glass-and-chrome complex housing the European Parliament was opened Thursday by Belgium's King Albert II amid accusations its construction has ruined nearby neighborhoods.
The inauguration renewed a lingering controversy over the $1.2 billion Espace Leopold complex, which greatly enlarges the so-called ``Euroghetto,'' an area in Brussels dominated by European Union buildings.
Parliament President Jose Maria Gil-Robles said the complex reflects the growing importance of the EU's largely advisory 626-member assembly. But to residents who live nearby, the complex represents decay.
Tree-lined roadways and well-kept homes have been replaced by narrow traffic-choked streets, dilapidated houses and grim-looking coffee shops, which emerged during the complex's lengthy construction period.
``The construction of the European Parliament has created major troubles in the neighborhood for residents because most of the surrounding streets have been demolished,'' said Joelle Stein of the Espace Leopold Residents Committee.
``Once there was a very pleasant life in this neighborhood,'' she said.
The Espace Leopold complex, with its 700-seat meeting hall, has been in use for about a year. It covers an area equal to more than 2,000 tennis courts and is so big that one deputy rode a bike between meetings until he was told to stop.
Local environmentalists narrowly succeeded in limiting the number of parking spaces to 1,500. Construction is continuing. A sports complex, apartments and a shopping mall are also planned.
The high price of the complex's bathrooms caused a public outcry two months ago. Bathrooms were constructed for each of the 626 assembly members at a cost of $14,790 each.
The 15 EU governments have never been able to agree on a permanent home.
As a result, monthly plenary sessions are held in Strasbourg, France, committee meetings and monthly mini-sessions are in Brussels, and the assembly's secretariat is in Luxembourg.