Commission not ranking preferences for key EU agencies post-Brexit

Ireland is seeking to host European Medical Agency and European Banking Authority

Ireland has expressed a preference for hosting Europe’s drugs regulator, the European Medical Agency (EMA), after Brexit. File photograph: Getty Images

Ireland has expressed a preference for hosting Europe’s drugs regulator, the European Medical Agency (EMA), after Brexit. File photograph: Getty Images

 

The publication on Saturday of the EU Commission’s unranked and unshortlisted assessment of the 27 bids from member states to host the London-based European Banking Authority (EBA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) kicks the ball back into the political court of EU leaders. Nineteen states have sought to host the EMA and eight want the EBA.

The EU said its assessment was wholly based on the information provided by governments in their bidding war to host the two agencies, which will be forced to relocate from Britain after Brexit. “It [the assessment] respects the member states’ decision that the criteria should be unweighted and does not provide a ranking or shortlist of any kind,” the commission said in a statement.

Irish lobbying for both agencies, like that of other member states, is intense, and with the commission declining to narrow the field much will hang on the personal diplomacy of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and his Ministers in the next few weeks. Part of Ireland’s case will certainly be that the economic benefit of relocation to Dublin of either agency would help to overcome the “asymmetric shock” of Brexit.

EU ministers – convening as 27, without the UK – will take the decision on who gets one of the big prizes of the Brexit process at the November meeting of the General Affairs Council.

Deficiencies in detail

Ireland’s bid for both agencies remains firmly on the table. The commission’s assessment, largely simply a summary of the bids against criteria set out by ministers, does, however, point to a couple of deficiencies in the detail of the Irish offers. Mostly they are technical concerns about the buildings being offered, but, in summarising the educational opportunities available for the children of staff, the commission, while acknowledging the scale and range of choice at primary, second and third level, notes the offer does not provide specifics on the number of places available. The issue is at the heart of arguments about the new host’s ability to ensure the seamless continuity of both agencies’ work, specifically their ability to retain staff.

The EMA is reported to have told the commission, following a staff-retention survey, that retention rates of as little as 30 per cent are feared if Sofia or Bucharest, both cities that currently do not have EU agencies based in them, are picked.

The decision is not one for the staff, but Politico reports they favour Amsterdam, with Barcelona and Vienna as runners-up, where there would be staff losses below 20 per cent. Dublin is some way down the list.

Ireland, like other bidders is putting up some €10 million to help ease EMA staff relocations. It is also offering €13.5 million in rental support for 10 years to the EBA, and €78 million to the larger – 900-strong – EMA towards its rental and other costs.

Suitable buildings

Ireland’s case for the EMA is made in a glossy 100-page brochure and video, both introduced by Mr Varadkar, offering three tailor-made sites in Dublin – two in the North Wall area and one close to Dublin Airport. The EBA offer is unspecific about locations but says there are a significant number of suitable buildings available.

Among Dublin’s challenges in this respect are concerns about the availability of housing, schools and transport.

The EMA on Tuesday warned it could lose more than 70 per cent of its staff, making it unable to function, if politicians pick an unpopular base for the London-based agency once Britain leaves the EU.

Amsterdam, Barcelona or Vienna were the top-three choices of staff, according to a survey of about 900 of its workers. However, the Netherlands, Spain and Austria all already host one or more EU agencies.

The EMA has said it would take at least three years to recover fully from the disruption to its operations. It sees retaining staff as key to maintaining essential services such as new drug approval and monitoring side-effects. – (Additional reporting: Reuters)