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Tens of thousands visit EU institutions - 11/08/2008

People visiting the Berlaymont building during open day

Though not Versailles by a long shot, EU bodies still draw large numbers of visitors

You may not think of the European Commission as a tourist attraction, especially in the summer when sundrenched beaches beckon. But 43 000 people visited the EU’s executive branch in Brussels last year.

Most come from around Europe, especially nearby France and Germany. Americans make up more than half the visitors from beyond the EU.

Don’t expect a guided tour of the iconic Berlaymont building, where the 27 commissioners have their offices, but general presentations by the commission’s visitor service will certainly improve your EU IQ. Held at a nearby Visitors Centre they consist of a 90-minute talk, followed by a question-and-answer session. They are free of charge, but you have to be at least 15 years old and part of an organised group. Plan to book two or three months in advance.

More specialised information conferences ranging from half a day to a maximum of two days can be arranged for journalists, students and other special groups. Programmes are tailored to specific interests and the group gets to consult with commission employees.

Can’t make it to Brussels? You can still visit the commission through its representative office in your country. The office can also advise you on funds to help cover the costs, regardless of where the visit occurs.

The commission isn’t the only EU institution you can check out. The EU council also offers information conferences, while the European Parliament welcomes both individual and organised groups to its premises in Brussels, Strasbourg and Luxembourg. You can sit in on a full session or attend a public event.

If you still have questions, there’s the EU hotline . The call is free and the number is the same throughout Europe. Or you can visit one of the many EU information centres scattered throughout the 27 member countries.

EU institutions also open their doors to the public on one day every year.

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