Saturday

25th May 2019

Analysis

EU agencies relocation could still end in political bargaining

  • Two EU agencies will have to move after Brexit (Photo: Bill Smith)

A proposal discussed by EU ministers in Luxembourg on Tuesday afternoon (20 June) lays out “objective criteria” to determine where the two London-based EU agencies should go after the UK leaves the bloc.

However, the text does not say how the criteria should be weighed up.

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  • The voting to determine the new location of the EMA and EBA is expected for the October summit in Brussels (Photo: Council of the European Union)

And since the decision will be taken by a vote, it is entirely possible that the country with the smartest lobbying, rather than objectively the best bid - if such a thing exists - wins the day.

Brexit-forced move

By March 2019, the UK is expected to no longer to be a member of the EU, which means the UK-based European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European Banking Authority (EBA) need a new home.

European Council president Donald Tusk and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker signed off on a proposal about “the recommended procedure” to select the new hosts of the EMA and the EBA.

The text, dated 19 May, was revised last week and sent to member states. The new version, dated 13 June, was largely the same, but with some changes.

Criteria

Both versions, seen by EUobserver, said that the EU commission “will examine the member state offers that have been received within the deadline and will provide an assessment of these on the basis of the stipulated criteria”.

The criteria include an “assurance” that the agency can be moved to its new location without any delay.

That means the presence of “appropriate office premises with the necessary logistics and sufficient space for offices, meeting rooms and off-site archiving, high-performance telecommunication and data storage networks, as well as appropriate physical and IT security standards”.

Other criteria include the “accessibility of the location”; whether there are “adequate education facilities” for the children of staff members; “appropriate access to the labour market, social security and medical care” for the staff's family; whether “highly qualified staff” are available; and the “agreed desirability of geographical spread” of EU agencies.

That last point refers to a 2003 objective to locate as many new agencies as possible in member states that joined the EU after that year.

Assessment

However, the text does not specify how the commission will assess the countries' bids.

Will it simply offer a matrix of all bids and check off whether they fulfil each of the criteria, or will the commission offer some kind of ranking? Does a bid need to fulfil all criteria, or are some more important than others?

Some of the criteria are written in such a way that makes it unclear as to how they should be fulfilled.

For instance, take the one on the availability of jobs for spouses and children of staff members.

“This criterion concerns the capacity to meet the needs of the children and spouses of the current as well as of future staff for social security and medical care as well as the availability to offer job opportunities for these,” is the only explanation given.

It is possible to argue in many different directions on this criterion alone, since the needs of the 500-odd spouses of EMA staff for example are not the same. Job opportunities is sufficiently vague that probably all bidding member states will argue they fulfil that criterion.

The role of the criteria in the final decision is not quantified. Instead, the text said that the “decision-making process is informed by the assessment” of the bids by the EU commission.

In an addition to last week's version of the text, it was noted that the vote “will be preceded by a political discussion organised among the representatives of the member states on the basis of the commission's assessment”.

But even a "political discussion" will not necessarily lead to an outcome based on objective criteria.

Eurovision-style voting

The voting, expected for the October summit in Brussels, will take place as follows:

In the first round, each member state can choose a first, second, and third choice: a so-called positioning voting system, which is also used in the Eurovision song contest.

If one country is the first choice of 14 member states – a majority – then it wins.

If not, all first, second, and third choices will be added up: a first-choice vote will receive three points, a second-choice vote two points, and a third-choice vote one point.

The three countries that have the most points will go through to the second round.

“In case of more than three offers receiving the highest number of points, all offers that have received the same highest score will go on to the second voting round,” the text said.

In the second round, member states have only one point to give out. Here, again, a member state wins if it receives 14 votes, otherwise there has to be a third round.

If there is a tie after the third round, the winner will be determined by "drawing lots between the tied offers".

Votes will take place in secret ballots. Member states will be sovereign in their decision, meaning that a country could still vote for a bid that, according to the commission's assessment, did not fulfil the criteria.

The attempt to arrive at “objective criteria” to determine the new location of the Brexit-affected agencies is laudable, but there is nothing to prevent bickering and an outcome determined by classic political horse-trading.

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