Brexit: European Medicines Agency move may rule out Dublin

Agency relocation from London may involve Strasbourg’s European Parliament base

European Parliament building in Strasbourg: MEPs meet there one week every month. The arrangement costs the EU €114m a year and critics have called for it to be scrapped. Photograph: Pascal Bastien/New York Times

European Parliament building in Strasbourg: MEPs meet there one week every month. The arrangement costs the EU €114m a year and critics have called for it to be scrapped. Photograph: Pascal Bastien/New York Times

 

A proposal to move a major EU agency from London to Strasbourg as part of a deal to close the European Parliament’s base in the French city could threaten Ireland’s campaign to have it located to Dublin.

The European Medicines Agency will have to be moved from London after the UK leaves the European Union.

With 900 staff, the regulator is one of the biggest EU bodies, and the Republic is one of at least 14 states competing to become its new home after Brexit.

Irish authorities have identified two potential sites for the agency – one in the north Dublin docklands and another near Dublin Airport – and argue that basing the regulator in the city would, given its proximity to London, make it easier for the organisation to retain specialist staff.

The Government faces intense competition, however, with France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden and nine other states all vying for the prize.

London also hosts the smaller European Banking Authority, which Frankfurt is seen as likely to win over competitors including Paris, Dublin, Amsterdam and other European cities.

The outgoing French government nominated Lille as its candidate city for the medicines agency, but according to reports from Brussels in recent days, a proposal has emerged to move the agency to Strasbourg as part of a deal to close the European Parliament’s second seat in the French city.

Swap talks

A report by news agency Reuters, citing EU officials, said the idea was gaining traction among MEPs and that discreet talks on such a swap had taken place.

A text calling on the EU to use the “excellent opportunity” of the Brexit-driven transfer of agencies from London to reach an agreement on a single seat of the parliament in Brussels was backed last month by 75 per cent of MEPs, including all Irish members.

MEPs meet in Strasbourg for one week every month and in Brussels for the remainder. The arrangement costs the union €114 million a year, EU auditors say, and critics, including many MEPs, have long called for it to be scrapped.

Any such proposal is likely to run into stiff resistance from France, however. Closing the Strasbourg seat would require unanimity among EU member states, and France has consistently defended the arrangement as a symbol of Franco-German reconciliation and a vital part of the Alsatian economy.

Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes said he thought it highly unlikely that France would agree to a swap deal. “It is indefensible how we all have to troop down there 12 times a year. But I can’t see any French government letting it go. There would be uproar in the Alsace region and across French politics,” he said.

Dual-seat system

Some opponents of the dual-seat system see the election of Emmanuel Macron as French president as a fresh opportunity to advance the argument. A number of Mr Macron’s pro-European supporters have previously called for an end to the Strasbourg seat.

The prominent Green MEP, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who was an early supporter of Mr Macron, has long called for the parliament to be based in Brussels full-time and for a European university to be set up in Strasbourg as compensation.

The centrist French MEP Sylvie Goulard, who has been tipped for a senior ministry in Mr Macron’s government, co-wrote a book in 2012 in which she argued for the closure of the Strasbourg seat in exchange for an EU agency to occupy the parliament’s current building in the city. In a report last week in the Dernières Nouvelles d’Alsace, a regional French paper, Ms Goulard “categorically denied” she was in favour of a deal to swap the parliament for the medicines agency.

Mr Macron has called for a separate parliament for the euro zone, and on a visit to Strasbourg in 2015 he suggested it could be based in the city.