22nd Oct 2019

MEPs excluded from deciding new EU labour agency HQ

  • Where will the European Labour Authority be hosted? The time needed to prepare a building to host its staff members will be one of the criteria (Photo: Eric Haglund)

The selection of the official seat of the new European Labour Authority (ELA) will be decided in a similar way to how two previous London-based EU agencies found new homes in other member states - with the exception that this time there will be no role for luck.

There will also be no role for the European Parliament - despite outcry from MEPs at their non-involvement of the Brexit-induced relocation.

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So far, Cyprus, Latvia, and Slovakia have made their interest in hosting ELA publicly known, with Bulgaria and Romania also rumoured to want to take part.

In November 2017, a literal drawing of lots decided that the London-based European Medicines Agency (EMA) would be relocated to Amsterdam, after the Dutch capital tied with Milan in the third round of voting.

Voting for a new location for the European Banking Authority (EBA) also tied after three rounds of voting, with the bid for Paris winning the drawing of lots against Dublin.

In particular the Italians were annoyed about the way they lost - even though the Italian government had agreed to the procedure.

The Italian government went as far as asking the Court of Justice for an annulment of the decision - but failed.

Not only Italy complained afterwards, but so did members of the European parliament.

In a resolution adopted by a majority of MEPs a year ago, the parliament said that it regretted "that the European parliament - and ultimately the representatives of the Union's citizens - were not fully involved in the procedure to select the new seat of the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which was eventually concluded by drawing lots, despite it being such an important decision".

The parliament also said that "decisions in relation to the location of bodies and agencies need, and legally must, be taken under the ordinary legislative procedure, fully respecting the European parliament's prerogatives, whereby the European parliament and the council are equal co-legislators".

The European Labour Authority is the first new EU agency to be set up following the EMA and EBA relocation.

However, the EU parliament did little to assert getting involved in the choice of the authority's headquarters.

The regulation which establishes the ELA was proposed by the commission in March 2018, with the following sentence: "The seat of the Authority shall be [x]."

Although the EU parliament had proposed changes to the regulation, like having the authority also investigate so called 'letter box' companies, it reneged the opportunity to stake a claim towards deciding where the ELA should be located.

MEPs reached a political compromise on ELA with the Council of the EU - representing national governments - last month.

Following that deal, EU ambassadors in Brussels agreed to a method for choosing the seat, without the EU parliament.

A document on the procedure, published on the Council of the EU's website clearly says there is no role for the EU parliament.

"Given the general political nature of the attribution of seats of agencies, this is a matter for the representatives of member states," the paper said.

Don't forget spouses

It said that the location of the headquarters should be selected on the basis of a number of criteria, including time needed to open the H, public transportation options, EU schools for staff members' children, job opportunities for staff members' spouse, and "geographical balance".

The latter refers to the fact that not every 28 - soon to be 27 - EU member state currently hosts an EU institution or agency.

"Seats of future offices or agencies should be primarily located in the member states that acceded to the Union in or after 2004, while appropriate priority should be given to the member states that do not yet host an EU office or agency," the document said, referring to a previous promise by EU leaders.

Like with the relocation of EMA and EBA, the EU commission will assess the different bids that have come in.

The deadline for bids is 6 May; the commission will present its assessment before 3 June.

On 5 June, the member states' highest diplomats in Brussels will have a meeting during which the countries that want to host ELA will promote their bids.

Employment ministers meeting in Luxembourg on 13 June will then vote on the bids on offer, with each member state's vote will count as one vote.

If no bid receives a majority of votes, the most popular countries will compete in subsequent rounds.

Unlike with the EMA and EBA voting process, voting will continue until one country has a majority.

"In case of a tie, new vote(s) will take place after a cooling off period of minimum one hour. Its precise length is determined by the presidency," the procedure document said.

The presidency of the council of the EU is currently held by Romania.

"The voting process on the seat shall not involve the drawing of lots," it added.

"We have agreed a clear procedure to arrive at the choice of a location," Dutch minister of social affairs and employment Wouter Koolmees told EUobserver.

"The choice will be made based on a substantive assessment," he added.

It has not always been like that. In the past, many EU agencies have had to temporarily set up shop in Brussels because the national governments were not able to agree.

Sometimes the only solution out of a deadlock came when enough agencies had been set up, that they could be distributed in a haggling exercise at an EU summit.


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