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26th Jan 2020

Interview

Poland: Leave politics out of EU agencies debate

Poland's disputes with the European Commission should not factor into the decision on relocating the two London-based EU agencies after Brexit, Polish health minister Konstanty Radziwill told EUobserver in an interview.

Poland has put forward its capital, Warsaw, both as a candidate for the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and for the European Banking Authority (EBA).

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  • Poland's health minister Radziwill doesn't want to accept that political bargaining could play a role in the decision on where to host the two agencies (Photo: Council of the European Union)

Radziwill was in Brussels on Thursday (21 September) to promote Poland's EMA bid.

"I hope the decision will be done on the basis of real arguments, and not just somebody's political attitudes," he said.

"Poland is different than it is sometimes seen from a distance. I invite everybody to Warsaw, to visit, to look at it, to see how it works, how people are happy, how democracy is blossoming, how the economy is growing, and so on."

Poland is in the midst of several rows with the EU commission about the rule of law in the country; logging in a primeval Polish forest; and its refusal to host migrants stuck in Italy and Greece.

"I hope that even as we, a European community, have some problems with some things among us, this shouldn't influence decisions that are made in order to solve real problems. Because here we are talking about problems or the benefit of patients," said minister Radziwill.

The nineteen bids to host EMA and the eight to host EBA will be subject to an assessment by the commission, based on "objective criteria" agreed upon by the leaders of the remaining 27 member states.

EU leaders will have a political debate about the assessment at the October summit, and a vote will take place at a ministerial meeting in November.

The votes are cast in private, and still leave room for political haggling, which was how previous locations for new EU agencies were often decided.

"Perhaps I'm not enough a politician, and I don't want to accept this way of making decisions. I think it would be much better to think what is really better for Europe, and European patients," said Radziwill, a medical doctor, who has been health minister since 2015 - his first political position.

Some cities not good enough

He said "some" of the nineteen candidate cities did not have the right conditions for EMA to fulfil its mission of approving medicines and treatments.

"There are some other offers, which, in my opinion, I would never back, or support, because of their weaknesses. The Polish offer is a strong one," he said.

"There is a number of cities that are good enough to continue the work of EMA. That is for sure. This is not just Warsaw, and only Warsaw."

But he adds: "There are also some places which are evidently not fulfilling the requirements, even if they formally do."

He did not want to name the cities he did not consider to be good enough.

The minister did, however, give some examples of the criteria he believed those inferior bids did not fulfil.

He said that no matter where EMA is relocated, some of its staff will quit to stay in London. These staff will have to be replaced. "This is a weak side of some other proposals," he said.

EUobserver asked "Which ones?" But the minister responded: "No, no, I'm not going into this. But, for Poland, this is really strong. We have thousands of graduates in these areas every year."

He also stressed that Poland has a vibrant pharmaceutical industry.

"In very small countries there is not such a background, [and it's] the same thing with the clinical trials. We have 30 to 40,000 people in clinical trials every year."

"We have a population of 38 million. If the population is much, much smaller - this is impossible."

The countries with the smallest populations that are in the race to host EMA are: Malta (425,000), Croatia (4.2 million), and Ireland (4.6 million).

The best in the east

Radziwill also said that, "additionally", member states should think about their past promises to locate new EU agencies in member states that joined the bloc in 2004 and later - like Poland.

"When we see it in this perspective - on this possible decision - I think in our region, Warsaw, is evidently the best place."

"I'm not going to compare Warsaw with some western European countries, which are evidently good enough to have EMA. But if you compare this with the eastern part of the European Union, I have no doubt we are the best."

"Warsaw is not at the end of the world," he said. "In fact we are in the middle of Europe - the geographic centre of Europe is near Warsaw."

Facts, not photos

The Polish bid sent to the Council of the EU, where the member states meet, stands out for its brevity.

The average length of the bid documents is sixty pages, with Spain (156), Dublin (101) and Lille (91) producing the most pages.

Poland's bid, by contrast, is twelve pages - the second-shortest document after Bulgaria, which submitted a four-page paper.

"I think you can't measure the quality of the proposal, with the number of letters being used for the application. We are very concrete with our proposal. We give numbers, facts - that is it."

"We are serious," he said.

"What is needed is to choose the place where the work can be continued properly. … I think that this is very important, [to] give a set of information - facts. Not just playing with nice pictures".

Lobbying

The Polish minister did not have a specific figure on how much the government is spending on promoting its agency bids.

The Netherlands, in comparison, has told EUobserver that it is willing to spend up to €2 million on the candidacy of Amsterdam.

"I know," Radziwill said about his Dutch competition. "Special structures, special offices. I don't know whether it's necessary or not. We are talking about a decision to be made by 27 people. Why spend millions on lobbying them? Sorry, I think it's unfair."

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

Click here to access EUobserver's entire magazine collection.

EU agency relocation race starts with 23 cities

Cities from 21 countries have applied to host the two London-based EU agencies, which will have to be relocated after Brexit, with Luxembourg throwing its hat in for the banking authority.

Romania: We 'deserve' an EU agency

Deputy minister for European affairs highlights that Romania is 'the biggest country not having an agency', as one of the arguments to vote for Bucharest to host the medicines agency.

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