10,000 defects at `Faulty Towers'

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The Independent Online
IT HAS been dubbed Faulty Towers - the new pounds 250m European Parliament building in Strasbourg has more than 10,000 defects which builders are trying to put right before business resumes next week.

The futuristic glass and steel creation - intended to symbolise "democracy in motion" - was a disaster as soon as it opened to fanfares in July.

A catalogue of jammed lifts, non-existent air-conditioning and intermittent electricity blighted the opening ceremony and dismayed the newly appointed MEPs, who will spend up to 55 days a year there.

The new President of the Parliament, Nicole Fontaine, walked up nine floors to her office rather than step into one of the glass lifts. Neil Kinnock, Vice-President of the European Commission, said he was glad he was not one of the French taxpayers who had to foot the bill.

Parliamentary officials said then that the building was suffering "teething troubles".

But now the secretary general, Julian Priestley has informed MEPs of the full scale of the problem - more than 10,000 individual items which builders are trying to resolve.

Many of the faults can be put right by technicians and carpenters. But some others are design failings which cannot be reversed. And now officials are predicting more chaos when the MEPs return to the banks of the Rhine next week to vote to approve or reject the new European Commissioners.

Mr Priestley has promised that complaints from disabled MEPs about poor or non- existent access are being addressed, as are problems with the lifts and cramped catering facilities.

Designers will also be putting in proper signposts to enable MEPs and officials to find their way between offices and the debating chambers - last month handwritten signs on drawing paper were stuck to the walls when it was pointed out that everyone was getting lost. But other problems cannot be resolved so readily, with MEPs confined to tiny cell-like offices and confronting what Mr Priestley calls "excessive use of black" in the decor.

The secretary general and the President toured the building earlier this week, receiving assurances from the mayor of Strasbourg and the architect of the building that changes would be made.

However, the fiasco over the 16-storey building with its 750-seat debating chamber, 1,100 offices, 29 conference rooms, four bars and three restaurants, has embarrassed the French authorities.

Angry parliamentary officials are withholding part of the multi-million pound annual rent, and many MEPs are reviving demands that the European Parliament moves permanently to Brussels from the banks of the Rhine in Strasbourg.

The MEPs have to meet in Strasbourg because European Union leaders have decreed that the city is its "official" home. However, MEPs' offices, secretarial staff and committee rooms have been centred in Brussels for years, and EU taxpayers are already paying more than pounds 16m a year in rent on an pounds 800m complex of buildings and a debating chamber there.

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