The Espace Léopold is the name of the large office complex in Brussels which is used by the European Parliament for nearly all meetings other than those held (one week per month) in Strasbourg, the official ‘seat’ of the institution. Now significantly larger than the Parliament’s Strasbourg installation, the Espace Léopold covers half a million square metres and boasts a parliamentary chamber or ‘hemicycle’ with seating for 857 members and staff, as well as nearly 100 meeting rooms and over 4,000 offices. Located between the Parc Leopold and the Place du Luxembourg, it is the largest parliamentary complex in the world other than the Capitol and its surrounding office buildings in Washington DC.
Reflecting the name of the immediate quartier – named after King Léopold II of the Belgians – the Parliament’s Brussels facilities were built in stages between 1988 and 2009 on the disused marshalling yards of the Gare du Luxembourg railway station (itself now cleverly wrapped into the complex underground) and a derelict brewery. Initial construction was financed by the private sector as an international conference centre – a means of circumventing French opposition to the Parliament expanding its presence in Brussels – before the institution itself decided to finance and expand the project. The first section, the barrel-roofed Paul-Henri Spaak building which houses the hemicycle, committee rooms and offices of the Parliament’s President and senior administrative staff, was opened in 1993. It was followed by the massive Altiero Spinelli building in 1996, which contains offices for members and staff, further committee rooms and a variety of other common facilities. Subsequently added were the Atrium annex and two wings adjoining the Place du Luxembourg, the József Antall and Willy Brandt buildings, the latter of which includes a visitors’ centre that opened in 2011. Today, the inter-connecting buildings of the Espace Léopold complex extend to nearly half a million square metres and accommodate the 736 MEPs and their personal assistants, as well as some 3,000 Parliament officials and political group staff. The Parliament also uses seven other smaller buildings in the vicinity, accommodating about another 1,000 staff. One of these, the Eastman building in Parc Léopold will host the future ‘House of European History’, a Parliament initiative which is due to open in 2014-15.
From 1980 to 1996, the Parliament’s much smaller Brussels base was to be found in a nine-storey building a short distance away – at 97-113 (since re-numbered 99-101) rue Belliard – and in a series of surrounding offices on both sides of the road, which are now occupied by the advisory European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and Committee of the Regions. The principal building was completely reconstructed in the early 2000s, before being transferred in 2004 to the two advisory bodies and named after the former President of the European Commission, Jacques Delors.
Copyright: Anthony Teasdale, 2012
Citation: The Penguin Companion to European Union (2012), additional website entry