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6th Oct 2022

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Italy brushes off southern alliance in EU agency race

  • Italy thinks Milan is the best place to host the European Medicines Agency, which will have to leave London after Brexit. (Photo: Joseph Pearson)

Italian state secretary of European affairs Sandro Gozi did not want to commit to a Greek proposal to have all Mediterranean EU countries support each others' bids to host the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

"There are many talks. Everybody is talking to everybody else," Gozi said on Monday (25 September) at a presentation of Italy's bid to host EMA.

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  • Italy's EU minister, Gozi (r), speaking to the European Commission's second-in-command, Frans Timmermans. (Photo: Council of the European Union)

The London-based agency needs to be relocated after the UK leaves the EU. Its new location will be decided through a maximum of three rounds of votes at a November ministerial meeting in Brussels.

Earlier this month, Gozi's Greek colleague, alternate minister of foreign affairs Georgios Katrougalos, suggested that during the first round, Mediterranean member states - Cyprus, France, Italy, Malta, Portugal, and Spain - should only give votes to each other.

When EUobserver asked Gozi at Monday's presentation what he thought of the idea, he declined to answer.

"I will say it is too early to unveil the strategy we are carrying out, otherwise it wouldn't be strategy," said Gozi.

Before the November vote, the European Commission will publish an assessment of all the bids. That paper, due by Saturday (30 September), is based on six criteria, which were determined by EU leaders last June.

The criteria are: completion of new office by the date of Brexit, accessibility of the location, presence of international schools, job opportunities for spouses, business continuity, and taking into account past promises that agencies should be divided between member states as much as possible, particularly in those that do not host one yet.

Italy had also wanted the commission to produce a shortlist, but the EU executive will not do that.

The Italian centre-left politician said that Milan, which is Italy's candidate city for EMA, fulfils all the criteria.

"That is not the case for other bids," he said.

Criteria

"We want to promote something in the interest of European citizens. We talk about security and human health," said Gozi. "We want to ensure the good functioning of the single market. These are all specific conditions that we can ensure, that others cannot ensure."

When asked to specify which countries' bids did not fulfil the criteria, Gozi refused to give names.

"I think it would be very easy to identify these countries I was referring to when you read the very well-written and objective report of the European Commission on 30 September," he said.

Gozi left immediately after that, but while entering his car he told EUobserver that he had not yet seen the commission's report; "of course not".

So he could not know for sure that some countries' bids did not fulfil the criteria, or even that the report would be well-written, this website retorted. Gozi answered that he was "confident" of it.

Monday's presentation was the latest in a series of events in Brussels, to promote candidate cities' bids.

AC Milan vs Inter Milan

However, it had more of an impression of being targeted to a domestic audience.

The whole event was held in Italian, many of the audience members seemed to understand without interpretation, and there were hearty laughs at jokes referring to local Italian contexts.

State secretary Gozi was also accompanied by the Italian health minister, the president of the Lombardy region, and the mayor of Milan - the latter two stressing the remarkableness of their working together since they both supported different Milanese football teams: AC Milan and Inter Milan.

The Italian bid, submitted to the Council of the European Union, includes a building that is owned by Italy's northern Lombardy region. EMA could rent the building at a discounted price.

Italy has also allocated €59 million in taxpayer money to cover costs of changing features of the building "to ensure that it meets EMA's specific requirements, including the cost of acquiring furnishings and installations for the meeting rooms".

Gozi defended the allocation as "worthwhile", because it would "ensure the well-functioning of the agency, which is so important for the health of our citizens and for the in general the good functioning of Europe".

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

Click here to access EUobserver's entire magazine collection.

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