Down to the wire as Euro nations battle for lucrative banking and medicines agencies

Many of Europe’s major cities are in the final stages of a complex battle to benefit from the relocation of two major EU agencies following the Brexit vote.

The United Kingdom is currently hosting the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European Banking Authority (EBA), which both have their seat in London.

As the UK has triggered Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, and is intending to leave the EU, it is now necessary to move the two UK-based agencies to other locations within the Union’s territory.

Nineteen cities have applied to the host the EMA. These cities are Amsterdam, Athens, Barcelona, Bonn, Bratislava, Brussels, Bucharest, Copenhagen, Dublin, Helsinki, Lille, Milan, Porto, Sofia, Stockholm, Valetta, Vienna, Warsaw, and Zagreb.

The competition to host the EBA is amongst eight cities: Brussels, Dublin, Frankfurt, Paris, Prague, Luxembourg-City, Vienna and Warsaw. Four of these cities – Brussels, Dublin, Vienna and Warsaw – are candidates for both agencies, while two countries, France and Germany, present a city for each agency – Lille and Bonn for the EMA, Paris and Frankfurt for the EBA.

The EMA regulates human and animal health medicines that are marketed across the EU. It provides the pharmaceutical industry with guidance on what evidence is required to demonstrate that a product is safe and effective, and assesses the final evidence to decide if the drug is fit to be placed on the market.

It is now necessary to move the two UK-based agencies to other locations within the Union’s territory

The EBA is one of three financial supervisory authorities, the others being the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) and the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority (EIOPA). Its main task is to help write the European Single Rulebook for EU financial institutions by drafting technical standards and guidelines. It is also supposed to promote convergence on how EU countries comply with financial regulations by, for example, monitoring national implementation of rules. It also administers EU-wide bank stress tests.

In June last, the EU Member States without the UK (the EU-27) endorsed the procedure for a decision on the relocation of the agencies. They set out three steps in the mechanism for voting – Criteria, Assessment and Voting.

Member States then submitted their bids, with information on how they would meet the list of six criteria:

  1. Bidders must assure that the agency can be set up in a facility that is fitted with everything required and meet security standards by the date of Brexit.
  2. The location needs to be easily accessible, with sufficient flight connections from EU member states capitals, with reliable public transport to airports, as well as enough hotels to accommodate large meetings with international visitors.
  3. Adequate facilities for the educational needs of children of the staff.
  4. Access to educational and career opportunities, social security and medical care for staff families.
  5. Resources to ensure the agency remains functional during the transition, for example having a robust labour market to fill vacancies quickly left by those employees who decide not to move.
  6. Geographical spread, which refers to how agencies should be divided between member states as much as possible, particularly in those that do not host agencies yet.

The European Commission published its assessment of the bids in September. It consists of a short note, 27 individual assessment summaries, one for each offer, a general assessment summary for each, and 27 complete assessment grids, one for each individual offer.

Up to three rounds of secret voting will take place on 20 November at the General Affairs Council. In the first round, each country has six points. They must make a first, second, and third choice: a so-called positioning voting system, which incidentally is also used in the Eurovision song contest.

If one country is the first choice of 14 member states, it will have a majority and it wins. If not, then the all first, second, and third choices will be added up, with a first-choice vote receiving three points, a second-choice two points, and a third-choice one point. The three countries that have the most points will go through to the second round. In the second round, member states have only 1 point to give out. Once again, a member state will win if it receives 14 votes, otherwise there must be a third round.

If no single offer receives 14 or more votes it moves to round three, where countries vote for one of the two remaining offers with the highest number of votes. The bid with the most votes wins. If there is a tie, the presidency will draw lots.

A so-called positioning voting system, which incidentally is also used in the Eurovision song contest

Voting on the EMA will happen first, with voting on the EBA following the same process. The winning member country for the EMA will be excluded as a candidate for the EBA location, though they can still vote.

With so many countries vying for the right to host the agencies, there has been a lot of speculation about likely winners. Meanwhile the agencies’ staff, whose decision on whether or not to move with their agency to the new location will have a direct impact on the effectiveness and continuity of the work, have no say in the result.