EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - The EU parliament is pushing Brussels police to boost security around its buildings after a high-profile mugging. But Belgian authorities say EU staff are oversensitive about crime.
Estonian Liberal MEP Vilja Savisaar, a 47-year-old mother-of-one, was in the early evening of 2 March attacked in Parc Leopold, a leafy zone behind the parliament headquarters.
"This man with a black mask on his face suddenly came walking toward me. He screamed - I suppose this was to frighten me. Then he jumped on me. He threw me to the ground and kicked me in the arm and in the leg. I wasn't badly hurt, but he took my bag," she told this website.
"After this, I cannot say that I feel safe walking in this area," she added. "The same kind of thing has happened to several parliament workers, not just one or two MEPs."
Parliament security chiefs on Monday (22 March) met with the office of Brussels mayor, Freddy Thielemans, to put forward a wish list of new security measures.
The list is under wraps for now. But Ms Savisaar would personally like to see: evening police patrols in Parc Leopold, extra lighting, more CCTV and information on whether it is legal to use self-defence gadgets, such as pepper spray.
Mr Thielemans' spokesman, Nicolas Dassonville, told EUobserver that a police taskforce is analysing the parliament's proposals, with a decision due in early April.
But he poured cold water on the idea that the EU district is becoming more unsafe.
"Crime in the European quarter has not risen. On the contrary, it has been falling since 2002 in all categories, including muggings," he told EUobserver.
"The feeling of being at risk is much higher among the European personnel than among people from Brussels. There's a difference in sensibility, in perception," he added, noting that one new measure could take the form of briefings by Belgian police for EU staff about the realities of crime in the city.
The division between EU personnel and Belgian natives was reinforced by the mayor, Mr Thielemans, in a recent interview with German newspaper Die Welt.
"We have the three EU institutions and Nato. They all use our infrastructure, our roads, they do not want traffic jams and they want a functioning police force. But they never pay back what they cost us. This is unfair," he said.
Ms Savisaar believes that any extra security should be paid for by the Belgian side, rather than out of the EU budget: "Brussels should pay. We live here. We buy products in Belgian shops. We pay for services. We put a lot of money into this city," she said.
The EU institutions create extra costs for Mr Thielemans in the shape of policing the 700 or so demonstrations which take place in front of EU buildings each year and the mushrooming number of EU summits.
But a study by the Belgian government in 2007 showed that the EU institutions help support 60,000 jobs in the Belgian capital and inject up to €6.8 billion into the local economy each year, helping make Brussels the third richest region in the EU.