Toxic fumes force EU summit out of new HQ

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Brussels (AFP)

The EU said Wednesday it is moving this week's leaders' summit out of its new 320-million-euro headquarters into a neighbouring building after chemical fumes from the kitchen sickened several people.

The decision was taken after staff had to leave the building again on Wednesday, in the second such incident in a week linked to what officials said was a chemical reaction between cleaning products.

"In the light of today's incident in the Europa building, it has been decided, as a precautionary measure, that the European Council of 19-20 October will take place in the Justus Lipsius building," the European Council said in a statement.

The Europa building opened for its first meetings in January after a series of delays, replacing the Justus Lipsius building where summits of European Union leaders had been held since 1995.

"It is a precautionary measure," an EU source told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"There are no safety fears, but we thought that... it was better to move for the well-being of everybody."

The Europa building has been dubbed the "Space Egg" because of its futuristic appearance featuring a huge glass oval inside a glass and steel cage.

- 'Noxious fumes' -

EU leaders are due to discuss issues including Brexit at the summit on Thursday and Friday, with Prime Minister Theresa May set to push fellow leaders to speed up negotiations on Britain's exit from the bloc.

The EU said earlier that "despite checks and precautions, a further technical incident occurred today in one of the Europa building kitchens" following last Friday's eruption of fumes.

"The technical issue affecting the ventilation in the kitchens of the Europa building, producing noxious fumes in the kitchens, has led to a number of staff falling ill," it said.

Friday's incident saw 20 people taken ill with nine people taken to hospital. Symptoms included vomiting and sore eyes, and officials said they were the same again today.

Some staff had said they did not feel comfortable working in the building until the problem was resolved, officials added.

The Europa building was commissioned in 2004 with a projected cost of 240 million euros but ended up costing 321 million euros in what officials said was a "small over-run".

Designed by Belgian architect Philippe Samyn, it features a curved glass lantern-shaped structure inside a giant cube made of 3,750 recycled window frames sourced from across the 28-nation bloc.

It has already faced complaints from some EU delegations over the size of the meeting rooms, while its rainbow-coloured internal decor has also raised eyebrows.