London loses prestigious EU agencies to Paris and Amsterdam because of Brexit

The European Medicines Agency is going to Amsterdam and the European Banking Authority is moving to Paris because Britain is leaving the bloc

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 November, 2017, 8:56pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 November, 2017, 3:33am

London is losing the European Medicines Agency to Amsterdam and the European Banking Authority to Paris, in one of the first concrete signs of Brexit as the UK prepares to leave the European Union.

The two cities were selected to host the agencies after tie breaks that saw the winner selected by drawing a name from the ballot box.

The Dutch capital beat Milan when lots were drawn after three rounds of Eurovision-style voting on Monday had resulted in a dead heat.

Paris won the race to take the European Banking Authority from London, after the favourite Frankfurt was knocked out in the second round.

The EU’s 27 European affairs ministers, minus the UK, took less than three hours to decide the new home of the agency, which employs 900 people in Canary Wharf, London. The decision on the banking agency, which employs 150 and is also based in Canary Wharf, was made in little more than an hour.

Brexit is still more than a year away but European cities were lining up to collect the spoils of Britain’s departure from the regional bloc.

Despite all the rigid rules and conditions the bloc imposed to try to make it a fair, objective decision, the process turned into a deeply political beauty contest – part Olympic host city bidding, part Eurovision Song Contest.

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Three European Union cities pulled out of the race to host the EMA ahead of the secret ballot. Malta withdrew on Friday and Croatia and Ireland dropped out on Monday, sources in Brussels said, leaving 16 cities competing to host the agency.

Estonia’s EU minister Matti Maasikas, who chaired the voting session, called the contest “a sad reminder of the concrete consequences of Brexit”. Britain will leave the EU in March 2019.

The agencies’ relocation carried with it tens of millions in annual funding, about 1,000 top jobs with many more indirectly linked, prestige around the world and plenty of bragging rights for whichever leader can bring home the agencies.

“I will throw my full weight behind this,” French President Emmanuel Macron said when he visited Lille, which was seeking to host the EMA.

The EMA is responsible for the scientific evaluation, supervision and safety monitoring of medicines in the EU. It has around 890 staff and hosts more than 500 scientific meetings every year, attracting about 36,000 experts. The EBA, which has around 180 staff, monitors the regulation and supervision of Europe’s banking sector.

Before the Monday vote, Italian EU Minister Sandro Gozi said Milan was a good candidate for the EMA but added that it was “impossible to say” how the voting would go.

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Italy was counting on support from its southern EU peers. In another sign of regional solidarity, Belgium’s foreign minister said Amsterdam would make a good pick, even though Brussels was itself in the running for both agencies.

Despite fierce competition, the 27 EU states - minus Britain - were keen to avoid a dispute over the matter as they sought to preserve unity in the face of Brexit.

But EMA and EBA staff are highly skilled, and some said those workers could be reluctant to move their careers and families from London.

“You have to imagine, for example, for the banking authority, which relies on basically 200 very high-level experts in banking regulatory matters to move to another place,” said Karel Lannoo of the CEPS think tank. “First of all, to motivate these people to move elsewhere. And then if you don’t manage to motivate these people, to find competent experts in another city.”

Reuters and Associated Press

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