Sorry for the question, but it's a bit chilly in the press room. Is it possible to solve it?” a journalist asked, scarf in hand, a few weeks ago during a press conference at the EU Council building in Brussels. The response was the usual one for a few months every time someone complains: "We remind you that we are in an energy crisis."
The high prices of gas and electricity and the commitment to reduce demand have led the European institutions to lower the thermostats and turn off the lights. The characteristic building of the European Council, which has a peculiar egg-shaped structure, is no longer lit at night.
The room where the correspondents work in Brussels during the summits of heads of state and government has been at 16 degrees since October. In recent weeks, it has become common to see very warm politicians at ministerial meetings.
The Energy Commissioner, Kadri Simson, leading by example, covered herself with a large scarf that served as a blanket in one of the last meetings with the ministers of the branch in one of the Council rooms. Although the community capital does not always suffer high temperatures during the summer, the air conditioning will not turn on either, despite the fact that the roof of the room is glass.
The place where European leaders and ministers speak to respond to the media when they arrive at meetings has been installed for two months at a not very warm temperature of 14 degrees. In the three European institutions the heating is around 19 degrees.
In the Eurochamber, the lights in the corridors are turned off as soon as the presence of workers is reduced, leaving some corridors of the Eurochamber building in a state of semi-darkness. In the city of Brussels, all the neighborhoods pledged to reduce the illumination of street lamps by 20%.
Public buildings must keep the heating at 18 degrees and lower the lighting no later than 11pm, including those in the Grand Place. At first it was decided to turn off the lights half an hour before dawn, but the measure was finally reversed, due to the feeling of insecurity it caused in the population, especially after complaints from women's associations, at a time of year when thefts and aggressions tend to increase in the city.
In some neighborhoods, “intelligent lighting” has also been applied, in which the streets have barely any light and only if the presence of passers-by or cyclists is detected, are they turned on. According to data from the City Council, consumption can be reduced by 65% with this system. As for public schools, they must be at a temperature of 19 degrees and 14 in the corridors.
But if there is something emblematic in many places in central Europe, it is the Christmas markets. The one in the Belgian capital —recently chosen the best in the world, according to a publication—, the new closing time is at ten at night, instead of twelve; gas stoves are not authorized either. Not only for an environmental issue, but also for the high price.
In return, small electric stoves have been installed near the tables for eating outside. The lights that adorn the city will only be on for 8 hours, instead of 12. A measure that the City Council assures is "more symbolic than anything else", because for years the city has been illuminated with LED bulbs. “If people are cold, we have blankets too!” says a vendor at a sausage stall at the Christmas market.
The Brussels City Council last November launched an initiative for the entire restaurant sector to give blankets to customers. They are made with fabric from old jumpers worn by public workers —such as gardeners or street sweepers— and are sewn by people with disabilities.
For the European Commission, all measures are necessary to lower prices. Even so, despite the fact that all countries must apply emergency plans, "many things would have to go wrong to foresee power outages and disruptions" such as those planned in France, say community sources.