29th Sep 2023

Madrid steps up bid to host EU anti-money laundering hub

  • Madrid has offered its Glass Tower to host the AMLA headquarters, a skyscraper almost 250 metres high (Photo: Unsplash)
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The application process has not yet opened, nor is there an official list of candidate cities, but Spain is confident the headquarters of the EU's new anti-money laundering authority (AMLA) should be in Madrid.

"We believe that Madrid deserves to host an institutional representation of Europe," said Juan Manuel López Zafra, director general for the economy of the Community of Madrid, during an informal presentation of Madrid's candidacy in Brussels on Wednesday (May 31).

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None of the EU's 35 decentralised agencies are located in the Spanish capital, despite the fact Spain has the fourth-largest economy in the eurozone.

It does host three EU agencies outside Madrid, but none of them are related to the economic or financial field, Zafra said.

The plan is for AMLA to have 150 staff in its first year of operation and between 300 and 350 in the following two years, before "probably" reaching 400, according to a European Commission memo dated 10 May and seen by EUobserver.

Madrid has already offered a 50-storey skyscraper as part of its Brussels charm offensive, but it's not alone in expressing its intention to apply.

Paris, Frankfurt, Luxembourg, Vienna, Riga, and Vilnius are also competing for the agency.

But the allocation will take into account the geographical distribution of existing European agencies, which would make the first three less viable.

Ireland will be applying too, but has not specified whether the candidate city will be its capital, which already hosts Eurofound, or another city.

The Hague was originally in the running, but later withdrew its interest due to fierce competition from other EU members.

Meanwhile, for Spain, not having another agency or authority of this type (as is the case in Paris and Frankfurt) is seen as an asset.

"We would be setting up a watchdog and to some extent it is good to have it separate from the big financial centres," said Carlos Cuerpo, the secretary general of the Spanish Treasury, during a press conference held before the presentation in Brussels on Wednesday.

The "quality of the national AML framework" was also listed in the EU Commission's AMLA criteria.

And Spain's is in the top two in the EU according to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an intergovernmental body in Paris, while Austria and Luxembourg have lower ratings.

AMLA's precise job description is still being worked out by the European Parliament, EU Commission, and the member states.

But it has already been suggested it will focus on regulation and supervision of the financial sector, as coordinating the financial intelligence units of all 27 EU states.

And in that sense, AMLA's institutional design already matched the one in Spain, according to FATF's glittering description.

Minor AMLA-location criteria include: proximity to airports and hotels, digital infrastructure, availability of multilingual schools for staff children and job opportunities for their partners.

And with these in mind, Madrid has already thought of a location: the Glass Tower, a 250-metre high, 50-storey skyscraper in the heart of the Spanish capital's financial centre, whose capacity could be up to 450 people.

The headquarters would be ready for use "as soon as possible", said Madrid city councillor Saura.

And if chosen, the rent would even be paid for by Madrid City Council.

But as the race heats up, there is no explicit legal basis in the EU's legal treaties for how to set up an EU agency.

Originally, they were created by Council regulations, but since the 2000s, agencies have been set up by the EU parliament and the Council, in areas where parliament has powers as co-legislator.

The application process will open any day now.

It will end in the coming months before the European elections (June 2024), which could overlap with the Spanish EU presidency.

But Madrid's Cuerpo didn't see any risk of conflict of interest.

"The selection process will go ahead irrespectively of who holds the [EU]presidency, and we will be very respectful of our own role", he said.


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