Monday

22nd Jan 2018

Leaders lobby on EU agencies in summit margins

  • Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte (l) talking to French president Emmanuel Macron. Both the Netherlands and France are contenders to host EMA, while France also offered to host EBA (Photo: European Council)

National government leaders whose countries want to host one of the London-based EU agencies, used the opportunity of seeing each other at this week's summit to win votes for their bids.

Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni told press on Friday (20 October) that the EU leaders "spoke briefly" about the agencies' relocation during the formal meeting, but "very intensely during bilateral meetings."

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  • Luxembourgish PM Xavier Bettel (l) wants to host the EBA in his country, while his Belgian counterpart Charles Michel hopes to bring EMA to Belgium (Photo: European Council)

He said Italy was in a "major" diplomatic push to promote its candidate city to host the European Medicines Agency (EMA), Milan.

The relocation of the EMA and the European Banking Authority (EBA), which need a new home in the EU after Brexit, was on the official agenda of the EU-27 summit on Friday.

Estonian prime minister Juri Ratas, whose country holds the rotating six-month EU presidency, gave his colleagues a summary of the agencies discussion held at a ministerial meeting earlier this week in Luxembourg.

At the summit's closing press conference, neither European Council president Donald Tusk nor European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker mentioned the issue.

According to Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, the agenda point lasted "one minute."

"Except for a short update by the Estonian president, it was not discussed at all. Not by anyone," he told press on Friday afternoon.

He said that such a public debate would not have been "useful" anyway.

Most member states are a candidate for one or both of the agencies, and so were careful not to say anything that could backfire.

Rutte said he thought if a leader whose country is a candidate would have taken the floor, that "would have decreased" that country's chances at the final vote.

He said that he had spoken "behind the scenes" to other leaders about the Dutch bid to host the EMA in Amsterdam, but would not elaborate "because that would decrease the chances of a good outcome".

He confirmed that he had political "change" to offer in exchange for a country's support for the Netherlands, but would not say if he was optimistic about the Dutch bid's chances.

"If we get it, then I'll be optimistic," he quipped.

Waiting for November

In the original draft procedure of how to decide a new home for EMA and EBA, Juncker and Tusk proposed that the decision should be taken at the general affairs council (GAC), where EU affairs ministers meet, with no role for leaders.

But at last June's summit, the final procedure was amended to include Friday's official moment at the summit.

This gave government chiefs the opportunity to lobby for votes.

The roughly 1,000 employees of the two UK-based agencies have to wait another month before they know where their employer will move to.

The decision will be taken at the GAC scheduled for 20 November.

There will be up to three rounds of voting. In case of a tie after the third round, the Estonian presidency will determine the winner by drawing lots.

Nineteen member states are contending to host the EMA, while eight EU countries are interested in becoming the new home for the EBA.

(Photo: Council of the European Union)

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

Click here to access EUobserver's entire magazine collection.

Analysis

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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.

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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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