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Brussels sets rules for Brexit regulatory agencies fight

Brussels sets rules for Brexit regulatory agencies fight

By: Alex Barker and Paul McClean

July deadline for bids for medicines and banking bodies ahead of October vote

Brussels has issued its criteria for deciding the post-Brexit home of two London-based EU agencies, setting the stage for a five-month battle between states vying for two of the union’s regulatory jewels.

Donald Tusk, European Council president, and Jean-Claude Juncker, European Commission president, on Monday proposed their ground rules for a multi-stage vote on locations by EU ministers. The decision will be taken by October at the latest. 

In a paper circulated to member states and seen by the Financial Times, the presidents call on member states to submit bids by July 31 to host the European Medicines Agency and the European Banking Authority, which together employ more than 1,000 staff.

The “objective criteria” stress the “vital” need for “business continuity”, ensuring that the agencies can be up and running by the time of Brexit in locations that can “maintain and attract highly qualified staff”.

A second element of decision-making criteria relates to the “desirability of geographical spread of the agencies’ seats”. This notes past EU promises to base agencies in newer member states — such as Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Cyprus and Slovakia — which currently host no such bodies. 

Although this principle was endorsed by EU leaders in 2003, the Tusk-Juncker document includes a caveat, suggesting that the agreement was directly related only to newly created agencies. “Although this procedure concerns relocation rather than setting up new agencies, the spirit of that leaders’ agreement should be taken into account,” the paper states. 

The 18-page document covers a range of factors in the beauty contest, including details of whether video submissions are allowed, and whether applicants “would pay the rent for a given period of time or indefinitely”.

It makes clear that applicants must be able to provide a home for the EMA’s off-site archive, which is “600 sq m and 9m high” and includes 34,000 boxes. Bids will also be judged on their accessibility for visitors, and ability to host 30,000 hotel nights a year for the EMA and 9,000 for the EBA.

A third set of “objective criteria” relates to the adequacy of education and staff facilities, including the international school places for close to 648 children of EMA staff. 

The Commission will assess the applications by the middle of September, which will inform a meeting of EU ministers to be held in October. 

The paper outlines a complex voting procedure, which starts with the EMA and knocks out the winner, so ensuring that no one country can host both agencies. The successive voting rounds narrow the field to a final two cities, which must aim for a simple majority. Lots are drawn in the case of a tie. 

Competition for both the EBA and the EMA has been fierce, with nearly every remaining member state applying for one of the two or, in some cases, both. Britain has yet publicly to accept that it will lose both agencies and is expected to fight to retain some staff and functions.

Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Milan, Stockholm, Barcelona and Dublin are all bidding to host the medicines agency and there may be more than 20 applicants eventually.

The EMA employs 900 highly qualified professionals at its London base, and is considered a jewel in the EU’s crown for its role in attracting business and an ecosystem of pharmaceutical experts to the capital. 

It also plays host to 36,000 national regulators and scientists each year from across the continent who come to London each year as part of the approval process.

The EBA, meanwhile, is being targeted by Paris, Vienna, Milan, Amsterdam and Madrid, among others.

Both agencies face hefty relocation bills after Brexit. The EMA will have to pay rent of €16m a year, plus taxes and charges, on its Canary Wharf headquarters until 2039, owing to a recently signed lease with no break clause. The EBA’s lease runs until 2020, but it can leave early if it pays a fee of about €3m. The EU expects Britain to foot the relocation costs. 


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