22nd Mar 2018

Bank agency shuns EU invitations

  • Greece's proposed new office for the EU's medicines agency (Photo: Peter Teffer)

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European Banking Authority (EBA) have opposite policies towards visiting cities that have offered to host the London-based EU agencies after Brexit.

EMA's executive director, Guido Rasi, visited Athens last week, and was given a tour of the building the EMA would occupy if EU member states choose Greece to host the agency.

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  • According to the tour guide, the room assigned to host the agency's executive director was much larger than the one he currently had in London. (Photo: Peter Teffer)

In stark contrast, the EBA told EUobserver on Tuesday (19 September) that it would turn down any invitations by member states that wanted to show off their candidate city.

"In line with the EBA's internal decision to ensure objectivity, the EBA senior management or staff has not visited any of the cities and specific buildings bidding to host the Authority," EBA's spokeswoman, Franca Rosa Congiu, said in a written statement.

"This policy is planned to be maintained until the decision is taken on the future location," she added.

Nineteen cities are competing to host the medicines agency, while eight cities are vying to become the new location of the banking authority.

The European Commission is currently drafting an assessment of the 27 bids, based on commonly agreed "objective criteria". It will be published at the end of the month.

Following that assessment, and a political debate among EU government leaders in October, the member states' interior and EU ministers will decide on the relocations with a vote in November.

Although the objective criteria were drawn up to take the needs of the agencies' employees and families into account, the directors and their staff have no direct say in the decision-making process.

Many of the member states bidding to host one or both of the agencies have visited their respective offices in London.

EBA spokeswoman Congui said the banking agency did host "some" of the bidders that wanted to visit EBA during the preparation phase or to present their bids, "as a matter of courtesy".

But EBA drew a red line about visiting candidate cities.

Greek visit

However, the EMA apparently has no such firewall policy.

Last Wednesday (13 September), Greece hosted EMA executive director Guido Rasi.

He received a tour of the building that Greece has put forward as EMA's potential new office.

Alternate foreign minister George Katrougalos, who spoke to EUobserver and three other media outlets on the same day, said he accompanied Rasi on the tour.

"We think that we are scoring very high on all the criteria put out by the commission," said Katrougalos.

After Rasi's visit, EUobserver received the same tour of the building - which is a former tobacco warehouse that became state property after the firm could no longer pay off its debts. As part of the deal, the company fully refurbished the building.

According to the tour guide, the room assigned to host the agency's executive director was much larger than the one he currently had in London. It included a private kitchen, shower - and potentially even a bedroom.

The premises also host an area to play football and a swimming pool.

The press office of EMA confirmed that Rasi had visited Athens and said that the Greek capital "was not the first city visited by EMA's executive director in the context of the agency's relocation".

EMA spokesman Edoardo Iannone said it is important that member states "understand the needs and expectations of EMA in this relocation process, so any disruption in continuity of the agency's operations can be avoided".

He listed the following cities as having received an EMA delegation: Amsterdam, Athens, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Malta, Milan, and Vienna.

That means candidate cities Bonn, Bratislava, Brussels, Bucharest, Dublin, Helsinki, Lille, Porto, Sofia, Stockholm, Warsaw and Zagreb have not (yet) been visited by an EMA delegation.

But Iannone noted that EMA is not "proactively reaching out" to candidate countries to visit them all.

"Throughout this process, [EMA executive director] Rasi has made a point of making sure that his voice is being heard on behalf of his people," said Tommy Fanning, who is one of Ireland's government representatives promoting Dublin's bid.

Fanning told EUobserver last Friday that Ireland too would "very much" like to give Rasi a tour.

"It's a question of: has the medicines agency the time and the facility to do that across probably nineteen cities in the next month - probably not."

How many staff will quit?

Despite the EMA staff not being able to vote on its own future workplace, there are some fears that if workers do not like the new location, they could quit.

"We are hearing rumours about these kind of, let's say, reticences of some of the personnel to follow," said Greek alternate minister Katrougalos.

He referred to one report that said up to 75 percent of staff did not want to leave London.

"We think that if this is true - we cannot say if it is true, I suppose we are going to hear later on in the process about the validity of these rumours - but if it is, and EMA is going to lose more than half of its staff, it is something that must be taken seriously into account," Katrougalos said.

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

Click here to access EUobserver's entire magazine collection.

EU agency relocation race starts with 23 cities

Cities from 21 countries have applied to host the two London-based EU agencies, which will have to be relocated after Brexit, with Luxembourg throwing its hat in for the banking authority.

EU agency bids assessment brings 'nothing new'

The commission said it did not have time to look beyond the documents each of the contending member states sent to the Council of the EU, which were already public.

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