Drugs are as readily available in Brussels' European Quarter as in the area around the city's North Station, and "a lot of" people working for the EU consume them, suggested Brussels State Secretary for Urban Planning Pascal Smet.
"A lot of people working for the European institutions take drugs," said Smet during a closed-door meeting with the European Commission’s Office for Infrastructure and Logistics in Brussels (OIB), Politico reports. The OIB, which is responsible for housing EU staff, met with Smet on 23 January to discuss a possible future relocation of part of the staff of the EU institutions from the Schuman district to elsewhere in Brussels.
Smet is in favour of the European institutions moving to the North Quarter around the North Station – a neighbourhood in which Brussels wants to invest. In an ideal scenario, the Commission will see the first members of staff move to a building in that district as early as the end of this year. However, some unions are hesitant to move, citing crime figures and drug use in the area.
In turn, Smet was quick to dismiss that argument at the meeting, suggesting that many EU workers use drugs themselves, making them ill-placed to look down on others for their consumption.
"A lot of people working for the European Institutions take drugs," he said. "In the Schuman district, they are dealing drugs too. And not the same drugs they are dealing [in the North Quarter], but probably a little bit whiter."
Smet's statements did not go down well with the representatives of the Renouveau & Démocratie trade union, as president of the union Cristiano Sebastiani said in a letter that he "did not understand" Smet's reasoning to make this "absolutely outrageous remark."
Later, Smet clarified to several Belgian media that his statements were made in jest. "I just said that there are other places in the city where drugs are being dealt. We are one city. There are no neighbourhoods that belong to Brussels residents and no neighbourhoods that belong to Europeans."
- Pink cocaine on the rise in Europe
- Belgian pharmacists to help people ween themselves off sleeping pills
- Legalising cocaine would stem drug violence, Belgian criminologist suggests
Additionally, he said that he made the remark "after a long meeting" about the possible move to the North Quarter, adding that the EU itself is asking for the move. Still, Smet did admit that crime is a problem in the North Quarter and said he sympathises with the EU staff who are concerned about the possible move, but that by moving to the area they can play a role in its recovery.
"We will explain the developments of the district in this regard. The North Quarter is in full expansion and the EU wants to be part of that change. The people of the Commission can be agents of change. By coming here, they will improve the nature of the neighbourhood."