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26th Jan 2020

Decision on post-Brexit home for EU agencies postponed

  • Two EU agencies are based in London. They will have to move when the UK leaves the EU. (Photo: Jaypeg)

EU leaders have postponed the decision on relocating two EU agencies currently in the UK, from October to November.

They adopted on Thursday (22 June), the first day of a two-day summit in Brussels, the procedure for how the new headquarters of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European Banking Authority (EBA), both based in London currently, will be selected.

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Some 1,000 staff are in limbo over where their place of employment will be located when the UK leaves the EU in 2019.

It was decided that interior ministers would vote on the new host countries at the so-called general affairs council (GAC).

In a draft text seen by EUobserver, the vote was originally scheduled for the GAC on 17 October, but EU leaders decided to postpone it to 14 November.

Nevertheless, an EU source said “we are envisaging a record-breaking quick decision”.

Other parts of the timeline, however, have not been changed - countries have a deadline of 31 July to submit their bids for hosting the agencies and the European Commission should have the bids assessed by 30 September.

Each bid would be assessed based on six criteria, which were agreed on Thursday.

The GAC on 17 October will instead facilitate a “political discussion” about the candidate countries. That discussion should be held “on the basis of the commission's assessment”.

The idea behind having a political discussion is to ensure that the EU agencies end up in a place that has the capacity to host it, and not be moved to a country that managed to rally votes through political horse-trading.

Another last-minute addition was the requirement to have EU heads of state and government updated about the ministers' progress by the rotating presidency of the Council – by then Estonian prime minister Juri Ratas – at the EU summit scheduled for 19-20 October.

This is a slight change from the original proposed process, which saw the discussion and vote at the same October ministerial meeting.

The procedure adopted on Thursday was accompanied by a specific clause stressing that it “does not constitute a precedent for location of agencies in the future”.

EU Council spokesman Preben Aamann tweeted that the discussion on the voting procedure took only four minutes.

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As cities line up to take over the European Medicines Agency some fear a kerfuffle that could destabilise the agency's work and slow down the pace of approving new medicines.

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History of the agencies (re)shuffle

The history of how EU agency seats were established shows that political deal-making, not logic or objective criteria, is the decisive factor.

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