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15/02/2011

The European Quarter

 

1. MASTERPAN FOR THE EUROPEAN QUARTER

The authorities of Brussels-Capital Region, in close partnership with the European Commission and the City of Brussels, launched in April 2008 a major “competition” aimed at defining a new urban form for the European Quarter.

The project is in keeping with the continuity of the objectives defined by the Master Plan for the European Quarter. It aims to transform the perimeter into an eco-district combining the first European and international administrative pole of the Region, diversified housing as well as cultural and leisure spaces. In addition, it responds to the desire, as expressed jointly by the regional authorities and the European Commission, to reorganize the locations of the Commission on both sides of the Rue de la Loi while encouraging significant functional and social diversity.

Regarding to this competition, the goal is to define an urban form with a strong symbolic identity which will develop the conviviality of public spaces, give priority to non-motorised mobility and public transport, provide a significant identity for the area through a landmark, and equip the perimeter with a high environmental quality and a high architectural value.

The winner of the urban development competition for remodelling the main axis of the European quarter will be announced on March 5th (12:00 Am) during a joint press conference held by Siim Kallas, Vice-President of the European Commission in charge of Administration, and Charles Picqué, Minister-President of the Brussels-Capital Region.

For more information on the Masterplan for the European Quarter, please click here.

Presse release:

  • Statement: launch of an urban competition on a European and international scale, relating to the rue de la loi and its surroundings  Statement EN 2008 04 03.pdf

 

2. HISTORY OF THE EUROPEAN QUARTER

Here is my plan, my new plan for Brussels as capital, capital of Europe… come along, Brussels! Stand up for yourself! Become captial of the world and then you can look down on Paris as a mere provincial town.

Antoine Wiertz, Bruxelles capitale et Paris province, 1840

 

The former studio of Antoine Wiertz is still standing in the shadow of the European Parliament. Visitors to this strange place are often surprised to read Wiertz’s prophetic words on Brussels in the entrance hall. The idea of Brussels becoming capital of Europe my have seemed a mad artist’s dream in 1840, but Wiertz’s grandiose ideas have in fact now been realised just a few steps from his studio.     

 

The European institutions have changed the face of Brussels over the past fifty years, particularly in the 19th century Leopold Quarter where Wiertz lived. Originally conceived as an exclusive residential district located just outside the city walls, this neighbourhood has come to be dominated by modern glass-and-steel office buildings occupied by the European institutions.

 

The international role of Brussels was the result of a series of compromises rather than any grand plan. When the European Coal and Steel Community was founded in 1951, the French and German governments wanted to locate the institution in Saarbrücken. The other Member States preferred Brussels, but the Belgian government unexpectedly proposed the industrial town of Liège, leading to a compromise in which the institutions were divided between Luxembourg and Strasbourg.  

 

When the Treaty of Rome was signed in 1957, the six Member States failed to agree on a single capital, though the main administrative offices were located in Brussels, which became recognised as the de facto capital. 

 

The first European civil servants moved into empty office buildings dotted around the city’s business districts. The first new European building was the Berlaymont, begun in 1958 on the site of a Catholic girls’ school known as the Convent of the Dames of Berlaymont. Completed in 1967, the star-shaped building was designed to house 3,000 European officials. Yet the building soon became too small for the expanding organisation, and the European institutions gradually spread throughout the neighbourhood.      

 

Yet the official status of Brussels still remained far from clear. In a bid to strengthen Brussels’ hand, the Belgian government invested heavily in new buildings and infrastructure. These development initially proceeded without any serious town planning: most of the offices were built by private investors and planning control was divided between local municipalities, the region and the federal government.

 

Everything happened, to use a Brussels dialect expression, en stoemelings, on the sly. The quarter was developed without any urban plan, driven for decades by a brutal process of speculation, wilful neglect, intimidation, eviction, demolition, reconstruction and renovation.   

 

The end result of this process was the sacrifice of an entire residential neighbourhood in the name of Europe. One of the biggest projects involved the construction of a building for the European Parliament, which was officially divided between Strasbourg and Brussels, with plenary sessions taking place in Strasbourg, while committees and political groups met in Brussels. This split, which is enshrined in EU treaties, has long been a source of irritation and inconvenience, and led to pressure from some quarters to create a second parliament in Brussels. Work finally began in 1987, though the building was initially referred to as an international congress centre, since the cretion of a new seat for the European Parliament was a diplomatically delicate issue at the time.         

 

A new crisis emerged in 1989 when large quantities of hazardous flock asbestos were found in the Berlaymont building. The European Commission threatened to move out of Brussels, which would have immediately put an end to the city’s bid to host the European Parliament. The authorities acted quickly and completed the new Breydel building just 23 months later, providing office space for some 1,300 officials close to the Schuman roundabout.

 

The European Commission moved to the Breydel building in 2002, just two months before the strategically-important Edinburgh summit, when a decision had to be reached on the future location of the European institutions. Here Brussels finally succeeded in its bid to become the official capital of Europe. A few months later, the European Parliament signed an agreement to rent the international congress centre. One year later, it bought the oval-shaped building, which became known as the “Caprice des Dieux” because of its resemblance to a French cheese.     

 

With the status of Brussels finally confirmed, a growing number of institutions decided to base themselves in the European Quarter, including advisory bodies, NGOs, lobbying offices and regional offices.

 

Brussels Region is now determined to avoid the errors of the past and integrate European insititutions rationally into the fabric of the city. The Region has drawn up plan aimed at determining the location of European institutions throughout the city (and not just in the European Quarter). It has also signed an agreement with the federal government and the four Brussels municipalites with EU institutions in their territories to ensure a rational plan that preserves the quality of life at a neighbourhood level. The European institutions, for their part, are increasingly aware that they too have a role to play in protecting the urban fabric.

 

This process has led to the appointment of Marie-Laure Roggemans as “Ms Europe.” Her role is to coordinate contacts between the various Brussels, Belgian and European institutions. This new initiative is backed up by some €28 million under the Beliris agreement, which will be spent on improvements to the European Quarter. The new plan aims to halt to new office construction, renovate old buildings and convert empty office space into apartments.

 

The Belgian political scientist Yann Gall describes the evolution of the European Quarter in his study on Europeans in Brussels titled "Brussels: a capital region for 450 million citizens". The study is available in a pdf file, but only in French and Dutch.

 

 table des matières Bruxelles Région-Capitale pour 450 millions dhabitants.pdf 

  Chapitre I. La présence européenne à Bruxelles p 1-23.pdf 

 Chapitre I. La présence européenne à Bruxelles p 23-38.pdf 

 Chapitre II. Bruxelles Global City.pdf 

 Conclusions.pdf


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