Together with Andy, I went to the Parlamentarium, the new EU Parliament visitors’ centre, yesterday. One day later I actually still don’t know what to think about it. It kind of feels like a cosy and fancy vision of the European Parliament, with some interesting features and some strange things that don’t make sense.
After getting through the security control and a tunnel where dozens of voices greet you (quite scary), the visits continues confusing, with a “history” part that didn’t make any sense to me, that doesn’t help to understand the evolution of the Parliament as such because the arrangement is quite chaotic.
The most informing part may be the gallery of current MEPs and the information next to the gallary, although I doubt that writing an email to an MEP from one of the terminals actually leads to any kind of interest on the side of the deputies. Still, in this part it’s actually possible to learn something about the current parliament, its people and its groups.
What is totally useless in the Parlamentarium is the main europlaza where you can pull heavy boxes over a map of Europe. When you’ve put your box over one of the cities you get input on random EU policies that have only marginal relevance to the cities. The boxes are hard to move, several times they didn’t capture the city, and they generally don’t make much sense.
Probably most “exciting”, at least audiovisually, is the 360° screen presentation of how the parliament works in a room next to the europlaza. I’d say most major issues are covered in a mainly understandable way in this 12 minute video. Technically and from a story-telling point of view this is excellently done. It’s just funny to see that in this vision, the plenary is always full as are the committee meeting rooms.
On the other side of the europlaza there is the relaxing lounge. Listen to random people talk about random policies from fixed screens sitting in comfortable armchairs while the 360° panorama screen walls around you show European landscapes and architecture. With a good bottle of wine one can pass a perfect afternoon there – maybe to meet a lobbyist or a date (or the combination of both).
I’ve got no idea what this has to do with the European Parliament, but it since this is almost the last station of your visit you leave with a very laid-back feeling and you can think that the European Parliament is a nice and cosy place regulating almost alone over friendly, happy and diverse peoplefrom all over the Union.
The Parlamentarium definitely is no ugly place, it’s not a boring place and you can learn something about the European Parliament if you haven’t know about it before. It’s a bit over the top, over-harmonic, overly-playful at the wrong places, but you leave it with the impression that things are generally fine and that citizens matter in what the Parliament does, independent of whether this is actually true.
If you are begrudging, you might conclude that the Parlamentarium is 23 million Euros of playful propaganda and self-adulation. If you are subtly critical, this is a museum that tries to develop an emotional connection between the visitor and an institution by preventing both to actually understand each other. And if you are well-meaning, this is a nice visitor centre with a lot of space, interactive features and ways to experience a parliament and politics as you rarely do elsewhere.
I’d say I’m all three.