Monday

22nd Apr 2019

Greece to split EU agency votes among southern friends

  • George Katrougalos (r) with Slovak minister for labour Jan Richter. Under Katrougalos' plan, Slovakia's bid to host EMA could not count on Greece's votes in the first round (Photo: Council of the European Union)

Greece has proposed to six other Mediterranean EU members that they should promise to vote for each other's bids to host the European Medicines Agency (EMA) after the UK has left the bloc.

Greek alternate minister of foreign affairs Georgios Katrougalos has suggested Cyprus, France, Italy, Malta, Portugal, and Spain support only each other's bids in the first round of voting.

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  • Atrium of the building in Athens that Greece proposed as the new location for the European Medicines Agency (Photo: Peter Teffer)

All of these countries except Cyprus are bidding to host the EMA.

"It is not easy to coordinate, exactly because we are competitors," Katrougalos said in Athens in a group interview with EUobserver and three other media outlets.

"What we can do in the first round, is at least not to lose votes to other areas of Europe," he said.

In November, ministers will meet during the General Affairs Council in Brussels, to vote on a new location for the EMA, and the European Banking Authority (EBA), which is another London-based EU agency.

There will be up to three rounds of voting, until a candidate is supported by at least fourteen member states.

During the first round, member states have three votes to distribute, with the first vote counting for three points, the second two points, and the third one point.

Three candidates with the highest score will make it to the next round, unless there are more than three that received the highest score - then those will also go through.

Katrougalos' proposed southern alliance would only last for the first round, saying that if two Mediterranean candidates make it to the second round, "that would be a good sign".

"We are still waiting for the answer of the other countries," he said.

The former MEP dismissed any criticism of his suggested strategy, saying other countries are also doing it "without saying that in public".

Objective criteria

The alternate minister - the second-highest position in the Greek foreign ministry, after minister - said that the political deal among the southern EU countries would only apply to bids that have received a positive assessment by the European Commission.

"We are not going to support any country that does not pass the objective criteria of the commission," he said.

The commission is examining all bids and will present an assessment by the end of September, based on six criteria, which were agreed upon by EU government leaders last June.

The assessment "will be an objective analysis, rather than any form of subjective ranking or shortlist," a commission spokesman recently told EUobserver.

The vote itself will be secret, and political deal-making could still play a role.

"It would be utopian and not sincere to say there is not a political element to the final decision," said Katrougalos.

"We must use the appraisal of the commission which I think is going to be objective."

"I hope it will help us, as the politicians decide upon something tangible, but okay, to be frank, nobody can also exclude some interference of the political level."

He said that because of the "many-vote system" it is complicated to make clear-cut deals.

But there were still ways to haggle, the Greek politician said.

Exchanging votes

"Some countries have a candidacy for both agencies - we have just for one," he said.

"So we could exchange support for a country that is candidate for EBA, in exchange for their one point in our favour."

He also said it is "not out of the question" that a country could offer "some kind of future support to a candidacy to another international organisation," in exchange for support in the agency relocation vote.

"Everybody is going to have bilateral deals. We are going to have bilateral deals. This is not excluded. That's obvious."

Greece's bid to host EMA involves a former tobacco warehouse that has been unoccupied for over a decade, but still smells like new furniture.

The Greek state had received it from a tobacco company that was unable to pay off its debts, and the firm fully refurbished it in exchange for the debts being written off.

Not only good weather

Katrougalos thinks EMA staff would not mind leaving London for Athens.

"What I consider one of the strong points of our candidature is exactly that we ensure a very high quality of life to the staff of EMA," he said.

"I'm not speaking just of good weather, although I suppose that is also an asset. I'm speaking about very high-quality infrastructure regarding schools."

Hosting EMA would not only mean an influx of around 890 well-educated Europeans, but also an estimated 36,000 visitors a year, and a spur for Greece's pharmaceutical sector.

"We think that the relocation of EMA in Athens would signify a return to the European normality of Greece, and to help us boost our economy, which is now developing for the first time after all these black years of the crisis."

(Photo: Council of the European Union)

Read more on EU agencies in EUobserver's 2017 Regions & Cities Magazine.

Click here to access EUobserver's entire magazine collection.

Relocation of EU agencies could save money

The EU agencies that will leave London after Brexit are likely have a financial windfall of several million euros a year, because of the way EU salaries are calculated.

Italy brushes off southern alliance in EU agency race

Italy is promoting Milan as a new home for the London-based medicines agency. 'There are many talks. Everybody is talking to everybody else,' said the Italian state secretary of European affairs.

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