In response to Eurocrats complaining about the possible relocation of EU institutions near Brussels’ North Station, an area of the city where hard drugs are openly bought and sold, the Belgian capital’s most senior urban planner has accused EU workers of phony outrage, saying many of the institution’s civil servants are drug abusers themselves.
Brussels’ State Secretary for Urbanism Pascal Smet’s comments came last month during a meeting with the European Commission’s Office for Infrastructure and Logistics (OIB)—an agency responsible for housing EU staff—where the possible relocation of EU agencies from their current location, the EU Quarter, to the low income, drug and crime-ridden Northern Quarter was discussed.
Although the higher-ups in the institutions seem to support the relocation of agencies, the trade unions representing EU staff believe the move could pose a threat to the safety of the workers, citing the high rates of crime and drug abuse in the Northern Quarter.
Smet, however, dismissed this argument, citing that drug use is common among EU civil servants. “A lot of people working for the European institutions take drugs,” Smet was quoted as having said at the meeting.
He went on to insinuate that cocaine use is prevalent among those working for the European Union, saying that “in Schuman, they are dealing drugs too … and probably not the same drugs they are dealing [in the Northern Quarter], but probably a little bit whiter.”
The EU trade unions were incensed at Smet’s comments, so much so that they penned a joint letter to Johannes Hahn, the European Commissioner for Budget and Administration, where they complained.
“I cannot understand what he must have been thinking when he made that statement, nor why he was not prevented from attacking the dignity and reputation of the institutions in the meeting,” wrote one of the union presidents. “Mr. Smet should take back his unacceptable statement,” the union leader added.
Smet, however, remained unperturbed by the trade unions’ complaints, saying that his comments weren’t serious and came in response to one of the meeting’s attendees who seemed to suggest that EU staffers somehow would not know how to exist in a community where drug users were present.
“I was just saying that there are other places where drug users are present, including Place Schuman,” Smet said, adding: “We are one city … There are no neighborhoods that are for people from Brussels and others that are for EU staff.”
Smet also drew the ire of Charles Michel, the President of the European Council, whose spokesman called his comments “unacceptable.” “President Michel asks for respect for all the men and women in the service of the European Union, especially in these very challenging international times.”