Sunday

17th Feb 2019

MEPs annoyed at no-say in medicine agency relocation

  • The construction site of the future office building of the European Medicines Agency in Amsterdam, last December - it is unlikely to be ready in time for March 2019 (Photo: Peter Teffer)

MEPs in the environment and health committee complained on Thursday (25 January) that they should have been involved in the decision to determine the new seat of the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

"The parliament must protest," said centre-right Italian MEP Giovanni La Via.

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The location of Amsterdam as the new post-Brexit host city for the EMA, currently located in London, was decided in November 2017 at a meeting in Brussels of EU affairs ministers.

Following that, the European Commission tabled a draft regulation to turn that decision into a legal act.

But a commission press release accompanying the draft legislation irked La Via.

"These proposals are strictly limited to confirming the new seats of the agencies in the two founding regulations," the commission said, referring also to the decision to relocate the London-based European Banking Authority to Paris.

"We are to rubber stamp these matters in parliament?" said La Via, who is in charge of steering the file through parliament as rapporteur.

"I don't think you can reduce parliament's role to that," he added.

He proposed adopting a declaration expressing regret that the parliament was not fully involved in the selection procedure.

Other MEPs on Thursday also criticised how after the offers to host the EMA tied between Milan and Amsterdam, the decision was finally made by drawing lots.

"It is simply unacceptable for this kind of thing to happen," said Polish right-wing MEP Urszula Krupa.

"You can't just determine the seat of a headquarters by chance," she noted.

"I mean really, tossing a coin. It's utterly ridiculous," added Danish Green MEP Margrete Auken.

Belgian Liberal MEP Frederique Ries added that the need to flip a coin showed that the procedure to select the EMA's new home, agreed by EU leaders, failed.

She supported La Via's proposal to adopt a declaration saying that in future the parliament should be more involved in the selection procedure of the headquarters of EU agencies – although she warned against putting public health at risk by derailing the current EMA relocation process.

"We can't block matters, but we would like to be heard," she noted.

Dutch centre-right MEP Annie Schreijer-Pierik, who had lobbied in favour of Amsterdam as the new seat for the EMA, said she was "very satisfied" with the result.

She noted that it would not have been wise to involve the EU parliament in the procedure, because its MEPs cannot be objective, and larger member states would have been able to dominate.

Hope for Milan?

La Via, a former chairman of the environment and health committee, is not questioning the final result of the decision-making process, the selection of Amsterdam.

In theory though, the parliament could propose an amendment to the draft regulation, and change the proposed new seat of the EMA. Some press reports have noted this was a last straw of hope for Milan.

But that would likely lead to a legislative and political swamp, because then the parliament and the council would still have to find agreement on the issue before it can become law.

Amendments can still be introduced until next Wednesday (31 January).

428 days left

The move needs to be completed by 29 March 2019 – 428 days from now – when the UK is scheduled to leave the EU.

Last month, the executive director of the EMA told the parliament's environment and health committee that Amsterdam "ticks many of our boxes".

"A large majority of EMA staff said they would consider moving there," said Guido Rasi.

"But let me be clear. Moving a large organisation such as EMA to a new country is a tremendous complex undertaking in the best of cirumstances," he noted, adding that the tight timetable is making it even more complex.

"I'm still rather optimistic we can do it, but there are many hurdles we need to address," said Rasi.

He said that the biggest hurdle would be that the EMA's new office building in Amsterdam will not be ready in time, and that the agency was discussing with the Dutch authorities on an interim solution.

"The interim building would be critical for our business continuity," said Rasi.

The Dutch had outlined beforehand in their bid that their proposed building would not be finished in time, and that staff would be housed in a temporary building first.

La Via, the Italian MEP, on Thursday expressed concern over the costs of moving twice, and wrote in his draft report that the costs of the second move should be "fully covered by the Dutch government and thus will not adversely affect the general budget of the [European] Union".

European Banking Authority

A debate on the relocation of the European Banking Authority, which will move to Paris, was much shorter.

The parliament's economic and monetary affairs committee had scheduled a "first exchange of views" for Wednesday (24 January), but in the end devoted mere minutes to the topic.

The only speaker was centre-left French MEP Pervenche Beres, who is rapporteur for the file.

She did not question the decision made by the council, but did note that the parliament, as co-legislator, should have been more assertive in the process leading up to the decision.

"We should have told the council what we thought were good criteria," she said.

Amsterdam wins EU medicines agency on coin toss

The staff of the London-based EMA will move to the Dutch city of Amsterdam after Brexit, following a coin toss. Chance also decided the new home of the European Banking Authority: Paris.

Analysis

'Think of the patients!' cry EU agency contenders

Because of Brexit, the EMA has to leave London. Some health ministers lobbying to host it have made an emotional appeal, warning that patient safety could be at risk.

Magazine

EU agencies: The road to 'douze points'

The European Medicines Agency and, to a lesser extent, the European Banking Authority, was the most sought-after EU agencies in 2017, as no less than 21 member states competed to host them after Brexit.

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