Wednesday

11th Dec 2019

EU agency bids assessment brings 'nothing new'

The European Commission's assessment of offers to host two London-based EU agencies after Brexit, published over the weekend, are basically summaries of the already public bids.

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, where national governments meet.

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The EU's executive also relied on member states telling the full truth in their bids and "has therefore not undertaken any steps to verify the information provided in the offer".

"The Commission has not asked member states to clarify or complete their offers in order to put all of them on the same footing."

The result is 27 matrices - 19 for candidates to host the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and eight for those that offer a new home to the European Banking Authority (EBA).

For each of the factual part of six criteria, decided by EU leaders last June, the commission specified how those criteria were met.

The commission provided no ranking or shortlist, in accordance "with its mandate".

'Nothing new'

Helsinki mayor Jan Vapaavuori, whose city is running to host the EMA, said his city's strengths "were not really sufficiently identified in the assessment".

"The commission's assessment was very technical and didn't bring anything essentially new to the race," Vapaavuori told EUobserver in a written statement.

However, his country's minister of social affairs and health saw things differently.

"The commission's assessment summary confirms that Helsinki meets the key criteria and offers an excellent location for the European Medicines Agency," said minister Pirkko Mattila, "with a smile", according to a press release.

Romania's deputy minister for European affairs Victor Negrescu told EUobserver on Monday he believed the commission's "evaluation grid" of Romania is a positive one that will "strengthen" the eastern European country's bid to host EMA in Bucharest.

He said that, in addition to Romania not having an agency yet, the assessment showed "that our bid is complete and substantial and that, from a technical standpoint, we have been able to address all key criteria".

The commission's assessment meticulously identified every possible subset of criteria, like availability of wifi access. Every bid that did not specify the building has wifi access, would receive a sentence saying : "The offer does not provide information on the availability of wifi".

The Dutch bid, for example, did not include that information, or data on the "availability of an on-site archive rooms".

A spokesperson for the Dutch ministry of health retorted that the building is tailor-made and includes all necessary features.

"Our offer also doesn't say anything about toilets in the building, but obviously they'll have them," the spokesperson said.

Although the commission was not allowed to say which criteria were more important than others, it did offer some tips on how to achieve "business continuity".

It stressed the importance of accessibility, for example.

"In light of experience from other agencies where accessibility issues have caused practical difficulties as well as additional costs, the Commission advises not to overlook the importance of the availability of direct flights from and to EU capitals and the connections from airports to the location," it said.

The commission also said the "possibility for the agencies to maintain the current staff is also essential for business continuity".

EMA staff survey

However, it omitted from the assessment any reference to a recent press release about a worrying survey among EMA staff, which said that eight of the 19 cities would, if chosen, lead to "permanent damage to the system".

The survey, which was completed by 92 percent of the drugs agency's staff, showed many of them considered quitting after relocation from London.

It showed the popularity of 19 candidate countries, but in an anonymised fashion.

Even if the most popular candidate member state were chosen to host EMA, the potential staff loss would be 19 percent.

If the most unpopular country would be chosen, a whopping 94 percent said they could quit.

Nine of the nineteen candidates would lead to around half of the staff or more leaving, according to EMA's estimate.

According to the press release, this would lead to patients being "exposed to side effects - deaths - litigation".

Next steps

Because the assessment did not lead to any of the candidates being dropped, all of them are still in the race. At a summit later this month, EU leaders will discuss the assessment.

Then, next month, interior and EU affairs ministers will decide on the new location of EMA and EBA through a secret vote, where political dealings can play a role in the outcome.

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

Click here to access EUobserver's entire magazine collection.

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