EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - The EU's new president, Herman Van Rompuy, has opted to hold his first EU summit in an old library in order to create an informal atmosphere.
The 11 February meeting is to take place in the 108-year-old Bibliotheque Solvay, situated in a small park between the EU member states' normal meeting venue, the Justus Lipsius building, and the European Parliament complex in Brussels.
The 27 leaders will spend almost the whole day, from 9am until 6pm, alone in the library's wood-panneled and book-lined main room. Each leader will be allowed to bring along one advisor, but the 27 aides will be segregated in a separate chamber.
The leaders will be free to mingle and to hold personal conversations about the main topic of the day, the EU's exit strategy from the financial crisis, as well as supplementary topics, such as Haiti relief.
Normal EU summits in the Justus Lipsius building are more straitjacketed affairs, with the group of 27 stuck in their seats behind a polygonal table and making formal interventions one after the other in a pre-determined order.
"He [Mr Van Rompuy] wants to say: 'It's an informal meeting. I have arrived as president and I want to do this in a more intimate atmosphere," Mr Van Rompuy's spokesman, Dirk De Backer, told EUobserver.
"It's the first time, so let's see how it goes. It may be repeated. But we can't say it will be like this every time."
Mr Van Rompuy was fond of holding informal meetings with his ministers in stately venues, such as Val Duchesse, a former priory on the outskirts of Brussels, when he was prime minister of Belgium. Val Duchesse was also floated for the 11 February event, but it was put aside due to "practical problems."
The EU leaders will arrive at the Bibliotheque Solvay in their official motorcades. They will also drive back the 500 or so metres from the library to Justus Lipsius in order to hold their post-summit press conferences, for the sake of security.
Mr Van Rompuy became EU president on 1 January following the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty.
The low-key appointment has been interpreted as a move by member states to ensure they stay in the driving seat in Europe, with the Belgian politician last year himself promising to play the role of a behind-the-scenes consensus builder.