Tuesday

19th Feb 2019

Four EU states pass on post-Brexit agency spoils

  • Riga: Not the new home for one of the two EU agencies currently in London (Photo: Ivan Zanotti Photo)

Only four out of the 27 remaining EU member states do not want to host any of the two EU agencies currently located in the United Kingdom: Slovenia, and the three Baltic states – Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

Diplomatic sources told EUobserver that the four countries will not make a bid to become the new home for the European Banking Authority (EBA) or the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

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On Tuesday (20 June), EU affairs ministers will meet in Luxembourg to discuss the procedure for deciding where to locate the EBA and EMA after the UK's exit from the EU.

Some twenty member states have said they wanted the EMA, whereas six said they would like to host the EBA – some want both.

In the end, EU member states themselves will decide on where the agencies should go, which means a lot of lobbying and tit-for-tat can be expected.

But Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Slovenia will not go through the laborious process of convincing their peers.

“The whole lobby process is resource-consuming,” said one diplomatic source.

The decisions not to make a bid are mostly based on an assessment of their chances.

“We have evaluated our chances, looked at it realistically,” said a Lithuanian diplomatic source, noting that the conclusion was not to make a bid for the agencies.

Another diplomatic source said the same about Lithuania's Baltic neighbour, Latvia.

The Latvian cabinet had a discussion about the possibility, and decided that the competition would be too heavy.

“We realistically looked at what a proposal would look like. It was just not feasible,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Estonian diplomatic sources also confirmed that they would not make a bid, noting they would focus their effort on holding the six-month EU presidency, which kicks off in two weeks.

A Slovenian diplomatic source said their government in Ljubljana had officially not made a decision, but given that the criteria on relocation will be discussed this week, and the expected deadline is 31 July, it is not likely that it will make a bid.

“We are a small country,” the source added, noting that it would be difficult for Slovenia to fulfil the requirements on the ground at short notice.

Size matters, or does it?

The modesty is notable since Slovenia and the Baltic nations are not the smallest EU countries, and some even smaller EU member states have announced that they want to provide a new home for one of the agencies.

The size argument was apparently not a decisive factor for Cyprus, Luxembourg, and Malta, which have fewer inhabitants altogether than Lithuania, Latvia, or Slovenia separately.

Luxembourg, which already hosts the European Investment Bank, the EU's translation services, offices of the European Parliament, and Eurostat, has argued that it has a “legal claim” to have the European Banking Authority.

The Grand Duchy pointed to a 1965 decision by the six members of the EU's predecessor, the European Community, saying that member state governments were “willing” to locate EU bodies in Luxembourg, “particularly those concerned with finance”.

Malta, which already hosts the European Asylum Support Office, wants to host the European Medicines Agency. So does Cyprus, which is one of the five EU members that currently does not have an agency in its territory.

School requirements

The new host cities would not only need to host staff and the agencies' visitors, but also have an international school for the staff members' children.

The European Medicines Agency has a staff of around 900, and the European Banking Authority has almost 200.

Slovenia's capital Ljubljana already has enough trouble hosting the children of the 92 employees of the EU's Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators, which had been set up in 2011.

According to a European Parliament report adopted last April, the agency “has repeatedly signalled to the host member state the urgency of the establishment of an European School in Ljubljana”.

MEPs had “deplored” the fact that “more than four years after the entry into force of the agreement between the agency and the Slovenian government, no European School has been set up”.

A spokeswoman for Slovenia's ministry of education told EUobserver on Monday that the European school in Ljubljana will open on 1 September 2018.

The more than forty agencies are not evenly distributed across the EU.

Some countries making a bid for one of the Brexit agencies - such as Belgium, France, and Spain - already have four or more.

One is fine

But the Baltic countries and Slovenia seem pleased with the agencies they have.

Lithuania, which hosts the 43-staff European Institute for Gender Equality, is satisfied.

“We have one and we are happy with it,” said the Lithuanian source.

The agency in Latvia, the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications Office, has only 27 workers – although the European Commission recently announced that it wants to increase the staff to around sixty.

The Estonia-based European Agency for the operational management of large-scale IT systems in the area of freedom, security and justice, is somewhat larger – it has 140 members of staff.

After Tuesday's ministerial meeting in Luxembourg, the criteria for how to relocate the post-Brexit agencies are expected to be endorsed by EU leaders at Thursday's summit in Brussels.

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