£576,000 office renovations will save taxpayers money, EU official insists | European Union

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A vice-president of the European Parliament is facing questions after it was revealed he spent nearly €690,000 (£576,000) on lavish office renovations.

Rainer Wieland, a Christian Democrat MEP from Germany, spent €486,011 in a state-of-the-art office and €134,774 in a “showroom” next door, both built from scratch on the 15th floor of the European Parliament in Brussels, according to a leaked report seen by the Guardian.

The ‘showroom’ – which Wieland said is a meeting room that anyone in parliament can use – is equipped with high-end IT equipment, including €42,722 transcription tools and a videoconferencing system at €26,482.

The final bill could be even higher if the MEP goes ahead with a €49,864 mobile studio project.

The veteran MEP oversees the internal management of the European Parliament’s buildings and was testing a new office setup he called an “ideas lab” to see what functionality could be extended to all 705 members. “The institution will be able to act in a fiscally responsible manner, as features that might originally appear useful, but in testing would be excluded, would not be acquired by the institution,” says an internal report by senior administrators seen by the Guardian.

But the exorbitant costs sounded the alarm. In order to build the new office, Wieland spent nearly €35,000 demolishing the existing space, dismantling two existing bathrooms, pipes and ventilation systems, as well as window sills, partitions and false ceilings. . His new office had bespoke doors costing €25,000, a separate sliding door costing €14,810 and built-in furniture worth €57,948, including a kitchenette with appliances.

Inside the office, partitions costing €33,619 go from translucent to opaque in the blink of an eye. The doors are sealed with electronic locks costing €10,968. The “showroom” is equipped with a wall of monitors, a €3,500 table and a €25,000 ceiling light that looks like a window. “It’s nice, that kind of light is very nice, it’s also very, very expensive,” said Daniel Freund, a German Green MEP, responsible for overseeing parliament’s spending in 2020. He said he feared that the revelations would damage the image of the European Parliament.

“Looking at this from the point of view of a budget controller, I find it very difficult to justify this kind of expenditure to the European taxpayer. I am also aware that these are bad stereotypes, that there is a perception that the European Parliament is expensive… We have to be very aware of how we spend taxpayers’ money and this project is not not a good example.

Freund is also concerned that the plans appeared to have been adopted by high-level MEPs, without a fixed budget or cost tracking. “There was never a dedicated budget and no budget control,” he said.

“I want to make sure the money is spent according to the rules, so that needs to be clarified now with the administration…or the rules need to be changed to ensure that projects of this size have appropriate accountability.”

The spending is likely to raise eyebrows among EU member governments, who regularly complain that Parliament is asking for too much money for unjustified projects.

MEPs have offices in Brussels and Strasbourg, which were renovated at a cost of €17.6 million in 2019 to update IT and replace furniture. They can also claim expenses for workspace in their constituency.

Speaking to the Guardian, Wieland said the project would save taxpayers money. “It’s a think tank where we test ideas, whether they’re useful, usable – and we want to think outside the box…I’m a big believer that testing costs money, but not testing costs money. also money and sometimes even more.”

He added: “Most of the costs that are involved are behind the walls and that’s not a luxury.” Every MEP’s Brussels office is equipped with a toilet and a shower, which Wieland said was “an anachronism” that required staff to run the water for 10 minutes every fortnight to prevent legionella.

He dismissed the internal report’s term “showroom” as misleading, describing the space as “a multifunctional meeting room” that can be used by all MPs and staff.

He said the parliament lacked medium-sized meeting rooms, adding that such a room might not be on every floor in the future, “because if we test it, we also test the strength of need.”

Sources close to the MEP disputed suggestions that IT equipment should be included in total costs, saying licenses for the video conferencing system and transcription technology covered the whole of parliament.

Wieland, who is seeking re-election as vice president next week, also defended other elements of the project, saying: “We believe normal keys are no longer appropriate, [in case] the keys are lost. The €25,000 fixture was needed, he said: “If you have high quality cameras for high quality communication, then you need high quality lights.

A spokesperson for the European Parliament said a test for an “innovative architectural concept for MEPs’ offices” took place in 2020, adding that the size of the project did not allow for any economies of scale. “After finalization, assessments will be conducted to determine if it would make sense to consider some of the new features for other offices. Any decision would require the approval of the political and budgetary authorities of the EP.

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