The EU plans to splash out nearly €3 million to transform its office in Estonia into a high-tech visitor center to show off “the importance and relevance of the European Parliament and the EU.”
The plan, the brainchild of the Parliament’s top staffer, Secretary-General Klaus Welle, was agreed earlier this month at a meeting of the assembly’s “bureau” — Parliament President Antonio Tajani and his 14 vice presidents.
The Parliament and the European Commission share information and representation offices in the Estonian capital, Tallinn. According to an internal document issued by the Parliament’s communication department, and obtained by POLITICO, it plans to rent extra space in the same building, which would become a “Europa Experience” information center similar to the ones it has in Berlin and Strasbourg.
The “base investment” is estimated at €2.8 million, the document said, while the annual running costs — 60 percent of which would come from the Commission, 40 percent from the Parliament (and 100 percent from the taxpayer) — are estimated at €580,000 per year. The Commission’s contribution to the base investment “will also need to be addressed.”
According to the EU, its building is in an excellent location in a “highly frequented area” of Tallinn, “with 10,000 cars a day” traveling along nearby Rävala Avenue, and “between 900 to 1,200 pedestrians an hour circulating around the building,” according to 2005 data.
Estonia is one of the more pro-EU members of the bloc. It has a population of around 1.3 million, of whom 68 percent support EU membership.
The amount of money involved has drawn the ire of some in the Parliament.
“Wasting taxpayers’ money on fancy technical gadgets in European Parliament information centers won’t generate public support for the EU,” said German MEP Bernd Kölmel, of the Euroskeptic European Conservatives and Reformists group. “We need to spend our citizens’ taxes wisely. If the Parliament does so then it might find a warmer response from the public.”
The new space would include a “role-play game” to let schoolchildren “become MEPs for a day,” an “upgraded multifunctional conference space,” interactive MEP profiles and a 360-degree cinema “with an immersive and emotional film presenting the European Parliament as a powerful, young, and transparent institution that responds to the needs and questions of its citizens.”
The lavish visitor center would be able to accommodate 28,000 visitors a year. The population of Tallinn is just over 413,000.
“We’ve noticed that young people like and take possession of the Europa Experience in many places,” said Elisabeth Morin-Chartier, a French conservative MEP and member of the bureau. “So it’s not about money.”
The Tallinn office will be the Parliament’s latest big money real-estate investment, coming several months after the institution agreed to spend €6 million a year in rent on a “House of Europe” building in central Paris — and splash out almost €12 million doing the place up.
The Parliament opened a €56 million museum — the House of European History — in Brussels in May and has been in negotiations with the Belgian state to acquire the art nouveau Solvay Library next to its main Brussels base. The Parliament and Commission have also agreed to rent a space in the center of Helsinki at an estimated cost of almost €600,000 a year.
Estonia is one of the more pro-EU members of the bloc. It has a population of around 1.3 million, of whom 68 percent support EU membership, according to the document — “but only 23 percent feel that their voice counts in the EU.”
Harry Cooper contributed reporting.