A key decision due to be taken by the EU later this month on the future of two EU Agencies is being seen as the first big test of Jean-Claude Juncker’s recent ambitious call for a more “unified, stronger” Europe.
The prizes up for grabs are the much-sought after European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European Banking Authority (EBA).
The European Council has received 19 offers to host the UK-based agencies, both of which will need to be relocated because of the UK’s decision to withdraw from the EU in March 2019. The future locations need to be decided by common agreement of the EU27 member states at a meeting of the General affairs Council in Brussels on 20 November.
In his recent state of the union speech to MEPs, Juncker, the Commission president, called for a more united Europe and many see an equal distribution of EU agencies as the first significant test of member states’ willingness to implement Juncker’s ambitious strategy.
With the nomination process now closed, these are the 19 bids proposed to host the EMA: Amsterdam, Athens, Barcelona, Bonn, Bratislava, Brussels, Bucharest, Copenhagen, Dublin,Helsinki, Lille, Milan, Porto, Sofia, Stockholm,Malta, Vienna,Warsaw, Zagreb.
The 8 cities applying to host the EBA are Brussels, Dublin, Frankfurt (the strong favourite) together with Paris, Prague, Luxembourg, Vienna and Warsaw. As Frankfurt, a major banking venue, is now seen as the overwhelming favourite to host the EBA, attention is shifting to the increasingly fierce competition to house the EMA post Brexit.
Each of the bidding cities wants to offer the authority a new home and the reason is simple: the presence of such a significant institution enhances the standing and prestige of the host location enormously.
With Poland and Hungary currently clashing with the EU (in Poland’s case over the rule of law and in Hungary over controversial constitutional changes), some believe that Bratislava, the nomination from Slovakia, could emerge as Central and Eastern Europe’s most credible challenger.
Certainly, the Slovak PM Robert Fico recently called his country a “pro-European island” in the Central and Eastern European Region, and EU energy commissioner Maros Sefcovic said the Bratislava bid fulfils all the necessary criteria.
The applications, according to the Commission, will be judged on six criteria, including that the successful bid can guarantee that the agency must be ready in good time and operational when the UK leaves the EU, accessibility of the location, schools for the children of the staff and access to the labour market and health care for the employees’ families.
Sofia, Warsaw and Bucharest, three other candidates to host the EMA, would appear to have been pushed down the pecking order if the findings of a survey of the preferences of EMA staff are taken into account.
“During my time as an MEP representing Hungary in the European Parliament I tirelessly campaigned for more EU agencies to come to Central and Eastern Europe,” said Edit Herczog who was formerly a rapporteur on this subject in the European Parliament. “The EU now has the opportunity to balance this much needed and fairer distribution. I believe the EMA should be relocated to Bratislava or another city in Central and Eastern Europe,” she went on to say.
A European Commission source also pointed out that, unlike Poland, Slovakia is also a Eurozone member, a fact which some believe strengthens its case should the EMA be awarded to a Central/Eastern European state.
The source also noted that Slovakia joined the EU in 2004 and is the oldest member state that does not yet host an EU agency.
Some predict the contest will come down to a West v East battle and, if that happens, many argue that, for reasons of European cohesion – the heart of the ‘Juncker Strategy’ – it is now high time for at least one of the agencies to “go East.” It is feared that with a decision imminent, the bidding process will descend into a Eurovision-style contest with cities offering their vote as a trade off for their own bids.
But, with a current 900-strong workforce and its importance to Europe’s healthcare sector and to patient safety across the EU market, the importance of where the EMA will be located cannot be under-estimated, says Denis MacShane, the former UK Europe Minister.
He said: “The European Medicines Agency is the guardian of safe pharmaceutical products for 450 million Europeans. Thanks to Catalan secessionist nationalist populism it is unthinkable that the agency could go to Barcelona. The agency should go to a country with a very high reputation for medical research, universities and research institutions on medicines with international standing.”
All EU Agencies will be exiled from the UK when it exits the EU in less than two years. Some argue that the time is ripe for an end to the similar exile that has already existed for too long for Central and Eastern European countries.
All the bidders will also have to contend with an extremely unpredictable voting system, in which countries will pick first, second and third choice candidates. In the first round, each country will wield one vote worth three points, one worth two points and one worth one point. Unless a city receives overwhelming support in the first round, the three most popular candidates will go forward to further voting rounds until there is a winner.
The vote will be organised as a secret ballot, and many candidates are likely, at least in the first round, to vote for themselves.