It is open for business, and open to controversy. After 13 years of renovation work, the European Commission headquarters in Brussels has re-opened.
Outgoing commission president Romano Prodi and vice-president Neil Kinnock inaugurated the so-called Berlaymont, a 13-storey building that will be the seat of the European executive of 25 members. It is able to host over 2,000 civil servants, 200 interpreters, 50 cooks and 400 journalists. The building in central Brussels has been hit by delay after delay. The cross-shaped structure first opened its doors in 1967. It was shut down in 1991 to allow large amounts of asbestos to be removed. But the work dragged on, while its various offices were moved elsewhere. The Belgian government is planning an audit into the reasons for the delays and why costs far exceeded original estimates. It has cost over 500 million euros for the renovation work alone. But then there is the 200 or so million euros the executive is said to have paid Belgium for renting the empty edifice. The final bill comes in at 1.4 billion euros. That astronomical figure would pay for more than a dozen Ariane space rocket launches. A group of constructors is currently taking legal action against the Belgian authorities.