Wednesday

16th Jan 2019

Italy restakes claim to EU agency ahead of election

  • Milan filed an appeal to the EU court (Photo: Mariano Mantel)

Italy challenged the decision to move the European Medicines Agency (EMA) to Amsterdam rather than Milan after Brexit on Wednesday (31 January) – but with little chances of success, prompting some to query if the appeals had more to do with Italy's upcoming domestic election.

The Court of Justice of the European Union received a request from the Italian government, and from the city of Milan, to annul the decision to move the EMA from London to Amsterdam after Brexit, a court spokesman told EUobserver.

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  • Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni at the 22 June 2017 EU summit in Brussels, when he agreed to the procedure for selecting a new seat for the European Medicines Agency (Photo: Council of the European Union)

Meanwhile, Italian members of the European Parliament tabled amendments to a legislative proposal, to say that the EMA should move to Milan instead of to Amsterdam, a parliament source told this website.

The challenges come over two months after the decision was made, with agreement of Italy, and less than five weeks before national elections in Italy.

EU health commissioner Vytenis Andriukatis on Wednesday drew a direct link between the Italian attempt to overturn the EMA relocation decision, and the Italian vote.

"The commission is not a part of Italy's election debate," he told a journalist at a press conference who asked about the EMA relocation.

Several sources also said off the record that the Italian attempts to overturn the decision seemed to be linked to the fact that the country will have elections on 4 March.

"I think this is a political storm in a glass of water," said one diplomatic source from an EU country – from neither the Netherlands nor Italy.

Italy supported the process and outcome

The process for deciding which member state should host the EMA after Brexit was decided at an EU summit in June 2017.

It was endorsed by all 27 heads of state or government, including Italy's centre-left prime minister Paolo Gentiloni.

The procedure foresaw the European Commission providing an assessment of the various bids, and ministers of EU affairs decide through a series of votes.

At a ministerial meeting in Brussels on 20 November 2017, they did just that.

After three voting rounds, the bids from Milan and Amsterdam were tied. The Estonian minister chairing the meeting subsequently drew lots – as foreseen in the leaders' approved procedure.

Chance decided that the EMA should move to Amsterdam.

But then came Monday's presentation of the EMA's temporary headquarters.

As announced in their bid before the vote, the Dutch authorities arranged a temporary office for the EMA, because they are building a brand new one which will not be ready on Brexit day, 29 March 2019.

EMA executive director Guido Rasi said on Monday that the situation was "not ideal", but that it represented "the best option under the current time constrictions".

This appears to have become the trigger for those Italians that unhappy about the final outcome - a decision by drawing a lot - to challenge it.

But the diplomatic EU contact added that the Italians could have known about the plan to host the EMA in a temporary office, because it was part of the Netherlands' official bid.

What are the chances for Milan?

The Italian efforts to secure Milan as seat of the EMA are taking place on two levels.

The first is the appeal of the November 2017 decision of the 27 EU ministers – including Italy's – to select Amsterdam as the host of the EMA.

The EU's highest court has received a request to annul that decision, but it is not automatic that the claim will be considered admissible.

Moreover, the decision was, legally speaking, nothing more than a political statement.

The actual legal act to change the regulation that established the EMA, was proposed by the commission some days after the political decision.

That is where the second Italian effort is taking place.

Before the legislative proposal can become law, it needs approval from two EU institutions: the Council of the EU – where member states meet – and the European Parliament.

The council already approved the proposal, mere days after it was received from the commission.

According to a council source, it was rubber-stamped by all EU ambassadors in Brussels without any objection.

In the EU parliament, the file is being handled by the environment and health committee.

Italian MEP Giovanni La Via, a member of the centre-right European People's Party, has written the draft report.

Although La Via has some criticism of the procedure, which nearly excluded MEPs, he does not want to change the outcome.

In fact, at a debate about the legislative proposal, few MEPs considered using their power to change the word Amsterdam for that of another city.

Several Italian MEPs however thought differently.

Wednesday was the deadline for introducing amendments, and the committee's secretariat has received three concerning the seat of the agency.

All three amendments propose that the word Amsterdam is replaced by the word Milan, and all three came from Italian MEPs, a source said, adding that it seemed unlikely the amendments would be adopted.

The vote in parliament is currently scheduled for 12 March – six days after the Italian elections.

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