On Monday 22 January, Pascal Smet, Secretary of State for the Brussels-Capital Region in charge of Urban Planning, at the invitation of the OIB, presented the “Northern light” project to the executive agencies concerned by a relocation. During a long monologue, Pascal Smet slipped into the skin of a real estate developer extolling the assets of a gigantic plan to revitalize a neighbourhood abandoned for years. The visuals of the future infrastructure are magnificent: beautiful buildings housing offices and housing, wooded parks, sports buildings, hotels with roof terraces, new transport lines, and the promise of social diversity. He told us again and again how lucky we were to be part of this great adventure. Seriously?

Let’s talk about the format first: a “one-man show” in the presence of representatives of management, unions, and staff committees while staff members attended via web streaming, microphone cut, without having the opportunity to express themselves. Agency managers were enthusiastic/complacent about contributing to this real estate project, and their questions did not really reflect the concerns of staff members. Trade unions and employees representatives noted this discrepancy and raised several questions. Pascal Smet was arrogant in his way of responding. Colleagues were shocked by the tone and his inappropriate remarks.

The origin of the problem, however, is deeper than the security problem raised and does not primarily concern the Brussels Minister but rather the management of change by the OIB and HR. It is primarily about the total lack of social dialogue in the relocation of executive agencies to the “Gare du Nord” district. Colleagues are not against changes in their working conditions: teleworking and limited presence in the office, energy efficiency,… But they are calling for this to be done in a concerted manner. However, the OIB did not give convincing reasons for this relocation, or for leaving the Covent Garden building. The Director of the Office has negotiated in his corner with the local authorities to show the goodwill of the European institutions to contribute to an innovative project, and the executive agencies are paying the price. In addition, the OIB has not put alternative projects on the table to “Northern Light”. Was there no other alternative in Brussels ?

There was also no consultation on the layout of the buildings. We saw on the videos open spaces unsuited to the needs, no space for evaluations, no canteens, limited parking spaces, …

The work of the ambitious NL project will last for years (10 years? 20 years?) and the first results are not expected before the year 2025. So why this eagerness to move in 2023? Will they be completed in the event of a political change in Brussels? What about nuisances during long-term work? Noise, vibrations, disturbance on transport lines, hindered access for bicycles, …

And concretely, what will happen in September 2023 when the first colleagues are supposed to move? The area is uncrowded. Security issues (related to prostitution, drugs and other well-known elements of insecurity in the neighbourhood), despite the Minister’s answers, remain. And, no, they are not limited to one street. Although colleagues, especially women, have expressed their apprehensions, Pascal Smet has completely minimized these concerns. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that the agents of the European institutions can be a target in themselves.

There is then currently a huge gap between the projection made in this idealized virtual space and the reality that colleagues will face in September.

Faced with this scenario, here are our demands:

· Union Syndicale asks the OIB to provide explanations as to the procedure used to choose this building and what the alternatives were;

· Union Syndicale asks the concerned agencies’ Directors to withdraw from the “Service Level Agreement” with the OIB for the provision of real estate services and to start surveys to identify alternative buildings in the district around the rue de la Loi;

· Union Syndicale asks to resume the dialogue to postpone the move and to adapt the buildings to meet the real needs of the agencies;

· Union Syndicale asks the Security Directorate to receive figures on delinquency in the district. It also asks for guarantees from the Brussels region regarding the increase in staff to ensure security in a district that is far from the image described.

Please Participate in large numbers in the demonstration on January 31.

We need you to avoid this disastrous move!