Monday, December 06, 2004
I discovered over the weekend just why the Berlaymont building took so long to be made safe. To fill the reader in, the star-shaped Berlaymont is home to the European Commission. Originally built in the 1960s, asbestos was discovered in the building in the early 90s, and Berlaymont was subsequently evacuated.
The renovation, however, has been a typical example of the EU frittering away taxpayers' money. The Commission kindly purchased the building from the Belgian government in 2002 for a mere €553 milllion. Seven years late and three times over budget, it cost, in total, over six hundred million pounds to remove the asbestos and overhaul the building. With typical Belgian efficiency, it took four years to actually start removing the asbestos after it was discovered, and then took another nine years to reopen the building.
With a splendidly pompous and grandiose lack of irony, the outside of the building has been renovated with glass panels, apparently as a metaphor for the increased transparency of the Commission to the average EU citizen. Quite honestly, words fail me.
To quote Margaret Thatcher, speaking in the Hague on May 15, 1992:
"Goethe described architecture as ‘frozen music’...
...What music would Goethe hear if he could look upon the Berlaymont, perhaps while acting as an advisor to the Commissioner responsible for developing a policy for European culture (which has languished so long without one)?
Surely the music would be something atonal and very long, perhaps performed by an orchestra including vacuum cleaners, scrubbing boards, and taxi-horns, with Songs of Harmonisation sung by a mixed choir from the Paris School of Deconstructionism.
And what a climax of discord and disharmony!"
The Lady sums it up better than I ever could. And besides, I'm sure the vast length of time needed to renovate Berlaymont had nothing to do with the fact that the offices being used by Commission during renovation were leased from... the same firm who were performing those essential Berlaymont repairs.