Home to the institutions of the European Union, Brussels markets itself as an ideal home for any kind of international organisation. But the city has been less than welcoming to its latest foreign guest: the Church of Scientology.
To the annoyance of the church’s senior officials, a newly purchased three-storey property earmarked to become their Brussels HQ has been invaded by squatters.
But their anger with the illegal lodgers is nothing compared to their beef with the Brussels authorities, who have declared the church persona non grata and say they will not enforce eviction orders.
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Freddy Thielemans, the mayor, claimed that the “only activity” of the church was to raise money from “idle people who can be tempted by their message”. He has has vowed to use “all available means” to prevent it setting up its European headquarters in the city.
The church’s hostile reception in the city is in marked contrast to the fanfare of publicity it received in London last week, when Tom Cruise, the actor, flew in to open a £23 million headquarters near St Paul’s Cathedral.
The Brussels building’s owner, property firm BBAI, represented by prominent American Scientologist Neil Levin, applied to have the squatters evicted to allow for renovation work and posted a security guard with a dog at the door.
But the company was told that private individuals have no right to replace the police in upholding the law in Belgium. And last Thursday a court ruled the eviction order invalid.
Scientology’s representative in the city said he was bemused by the attitude of Belgian politicians.
“It’s like something from the last century,” said Fabio Amicarelli. “It doesn’t fit with Brussels’s image as the capital of Europe.”