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Giant glowing orb about to become the new home of the EU

A giant glowing orb is about to become the new home of the European Union.

[BRUSSELS] A giant glowing orb is about to become the new home of the European Union.

Nestled inside of a bold and decidedly quirky new building, the orb will be visible from the street during the day and after dark, a nod to greater transparency by an institution often dismissed as elitist and remote.

When European leaders meet for the first time in their new headquarters, known as the Europa and built for about 325 million euros, or S$492 million, they will experience "joyful" surroundings, Philippe Samyn, the project's architect, said during a recent tour of the building.

It has been a long time since any gathering of the bloc's leaders could be described as joyful.

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Finishing touches are being applied to the orb - on close inspection it's really more of a vase - just as hopes of European unity have faded precipitously.

Britain voted in June to leave the bloc, and the willingness of the other 27 member states to play by rules decided in Brussels is being tested in ways scarcely imaginable when the project was given the go-ahead a dozen years ago. Europe is being swept by populist fury, much of it directed at the EU - at its centralizing tendencies and its often ineffectual results.

National leaders have failed repeatedly to reach consensus over how to manage the debt crisis in Greece that nearly sank the euro several years ago. They still are quarreling over how to handle a mass influx of migrants from the Middle East and Africa. That crisis could resume if a delicate deal with Turkey restraining the flow collapses.

At best, the new building might represent a fresh start for the EU, along with its architecturally charmless neighborhood, known as the European Quarter. At worst, European leaders might end up meeting in their eye-catching new headquarters just as they reach the nadir in the struggle to determine the future of their troubled Continent.

The Europa features bespoke touches like dazzlingly colored carpets woven from New Zealand wool and designed by a Belgian artist, and a meticulously restored hallway from a previous building on the site, which once served as the headquarters for the German occupying forces during World War II.

The cost of the new building is galling for member states like Greece that have endured years of punishing austerity measures in exchange for loans to rescue their economies and maintain public services. It also angered David Cameron, who resigned as the British prime minister after Britain voted to exit the bloc. He had campaigned to keep Britain in a reformed EU.

"You do wonder whether these institutions actually get what every country, what every member of the public, is having to go through as we cut budgets and try to make our finances add up," Mr Cameron said five years ago, after being briefed on plans for the Europa.

Ministers will move next month, and EU leaders are expected to hold their first meeting there in March.