UK Politics

Cameron hits out at multi-million pound new EU building

Artist's impression of the Europa building
Image caption The budget for the Europa building was set at about £215m

The prime minister has strongly criticised the construction of a building in Brussels that will be the new home for European Union summits.

The new building, called "Europa", is next to the current one and is due to be completed in 2014.

British officials estimate the UK taxpayers' bill for the project will be about £25m.

At an EU summit in Brussels, David Cameron said it was "immensely frustrating" at a time of cuts.

Heads of state and government gathering for the summit - or European Council to give it its formal name - have been shown what David Cameron called "a great glossy brochure" about it.

In his opening address to reporters during a news conference, Mr Cameron was upbeat about what had been achieved during the talks but voluntarily expressed his irritation about one aspect of his trip to Brussels: "I am less enthusiastic about the presentation we were given on the new building for the European Council."

Expanding on his concerns, he added: "When you see a document being circulated with a great glossy brochure about some great new building for the European Council to sit in, it is immensely frustrating.

"You do wonder if these institutions actually get what every country and what every member of the public is having to go through, as we cut budgets and try and make our finances add up."

'Philosophical statement'

A spokeswoman for the European Council told the BBC the project is currently running below its budget - which was set at around £215m in 2004.

She added that the Justus Lipsius building, where meetings are now held, was never intended for its current use, because in the past European summits used to be held in a range of European cities, not just Brussels.

An official also pointed out that now the Council has its own president, Herman Van Rompuy, and Baroness Ashton, the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, extra space was required.

The lead architect behind the new building, Philippe Samyn, has emphasised in interviews that he sees the new building as a "model" of sustainability.

"The façade will be both a practical and philosophical statement," Mr Samyn has said, adding that the carpets will be made from Merino wool.

The European Council's website includes a four-and-a-half-minute video, set to music, about the new building, featuring architectural drawings and an interview with Mr Samyn, dressed in a bow tie.

The website adds that "solar panels for electricity production will cover the roofs.

"A collection of restored wood-frame windows sourced from all over Europe will provide acoustic insulation against traffic noise and first-class thermal insulation."

But the prime minister insisted the existing building is fine.

"It seems to me to do a perfectly good job of housing the European Council. The microphones work, there is plenty of room and the food isn't bad either. What is the problem?"

The problem, from the prime minister's perspective, is much of the money for "Europa" has already been spent.

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