European Commission sells half its offices as staff continue to work from home

Flags flying at the Berlaymont building, headquarters of the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium
Flags flying at the Berlaymont building, headquarters of the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium - DURSUN AYDEMIR/GETTY IMAGES

The European Commission is selling half of its office buildings in Brussels as staff continue to work from home for much of the week post-pandemic.

Official guidance states that “up to 20 per cent of teleworking is a right, between 20 per cent and 60 per cent of teleworking can be agreed with the line manager”.

Workers wanting even further work from home hours “may be authorised when necessary in the interests of the service”.

Those rules were put in place in 2021 during the Covid-19 pandemic, with Johannes Hahn, the European budget commissioner describing Commission officials teleworking for the majority of the week as the “new norm” at the time.

Speaking on Tuesday, he said the sale to Belgium’s sovereign wealth fund would slash the Commission’s office footprint.

“The sale will help us achieve our objectives to reduce the number of buildings by 50 per cent and our surface by 25 per cent,” he said.

The sale will only cut its overall office space from 780,000 square metres to 580,000 square metres, as the EU’s Brussels-based executive is keeping the more spacious office blocks.

It is expected to raise €900 million (£769 million).

The commission employs some 32,000 people, according to its website.

Help hit net zero goals

Other generous rules afforded to Commission officials allow them to work from overseas for at least 10 days a year, essentially allowing them to extend their holidays. While highly-paid Eurocrats are also given extra breaks on top of their basic 54 days holiday entitlement.

Officials paid more than €10,000 (£8,500) a month are not allowed to claim overtime when they work more than 37.5 hours a week, so are given extra days off.

The sales will also help the Commission hit its own net zero goals by occupying fewer but more energy-efficient buildings.

The sale will be used by the Belgian government to make Brussels’ sterile European quarter more attractive to visitors by doing away with glass and steel office blocks.

It promised “relaxing public spaces with more vegetation and more space for active mobility” to boost its cultural attractiveness.

A joint statement recently published by the Commission and the Belgium government said plans have been made for an area where “office buildings co-exist harmoniously with dwellings, retail and leisure”.