Having recovered from my Luxemburg odyssey, I must deliver on my promise to tell you the story on what the EU ministers are doing there three times a year.
It’s actually pretty simple. Luxemburg tried to grab the position as seat for the then EC institutions in the beginning of the Union’s history, but the squabbling among the member states meant they couldn’t agree on a formal decision. Meanwhile, Brussels happily offered the institutions to locate there instead, and so Luxemburg found itself snubbed. Having the various minister groups’ monthly meetings there in April, June and October, is the consolation prize for the country.
For this purpose, they are refurbishing a huge white monster for a congress centre, which, in good EU tradition, is taking its time to become finished – the latest forecast for its opening is for 2012. Meanwhile, the minsters are convening in what can only be described as a tin can.
This picture (right) shows what this place, the Kiem Conference Centre, looks like from where the delegates enter. The two shiny metal tubes sticking out on either side are not some inventive central vaccuuming system, but corridors leading to different parts of the premises. And no, the black building to the left is not still under construction; that’s actually what it looks like. Either designed to have the heat insulation on the outside, or just heavily soundproof for reasons I can only imagine.
Here’s another view of this complex, which apparently has won some sort of architecture prize or another; a factoid that only reinforces my already firm conviction that in order to become an architect, you absolutely, positively need to be stark raving mad.
My friend and colleague Patrik, well known to readers of this blog by now, refers to the Luxembunker along the lines of ‘a closed institution for the confinement of politicians’.
That is certainly an impression that is greatly amplified by one observation I made at the rear security perimeter. As you can see on this next picture (right), the steel fence is topped by a few rows of barbed wire.
And, as you can see, these barbed wire rows actually tilt inwards, which can only mean one thing: They are not there to keep people from getting in… but to keep people from getting out.
Quite frankly, I was at first convinced that this place was a prison, or possibly a closed institution of some kind.
Some of you will now immediately make a connection between the latter and the EU, which, of course, is little else than malign slander.
But what are you suposed to believe, when this sight is what meets you? This next picture (below) shows the side facing the entrance to the press centre. (No, you don’t have to climb the ladder in the middle of the picture to get there; all you need is to get through a gap in the perimeter littered with barbed wire and manned by a security guard.)
In the press centre , you have the obligatory wall-to-wall carpets, but little else. The rooms are made up of cubicle modules. Unpainted wooden columns support the steel roof. In the briefing rooms, where ministers meet the press, the wall-to-wall carpets continue up the walls. You could probably keep walking and suddenly find yourself hitting the ceiling by mistake.
Those walls are so grey that some Eurocrats probably blend in easily; maybe it’s intentional, to provide camouflage in case the media gets too intrusive. But I wouldn’t be surprised if there are Eurocrats in grey suits still left behind in there by mistake. (“Has anybody seen Leonard??” “-I’m right here!” “-Where?Step away from the wall so we can see you!”)
I feel sorry for Patrik, who is a TV reporter, and who has to try to make them stand out against that backdrop enough to be visible on-screen.
But, in contrast to the press centres in Brussels, you have to pay for the privilege of working in this warehouse: the deposit for the right to surf the Internet, sit at a long table, and use a telephone which you can’t call outside Luxemburg with (now there’s a definition of local calls if I ever saw one), is 15 euros. OK, you get it back when you leave, but that requires you to check out, which I have already talked about.
The food on sale is as overpriced as any given BMW, the most overrated car on the face of the Earth. Luckily, there’s a large shopping mall just across the road.
But it’s such a shame that such a beautiful, clean and picturesque city as Luxemburg should be littered by such an eyesore.
Let’s just hope it gets recycled into the can crusher by mistake next time the rubbish truck swings by.