The Brief: More coin-tossing, please

Yesterday the Council agreed to send the EU’s Medicines Agency to Amsterdam and its Banking Authority to Paris. The results were hardly a shock but the process was an eye-opener.

Both decisions went to a nail-biting lucky dip finish, with the winning names drawn out of a hat after three inconclusive rounds of voting. Amsterdam pipped Milan for the EMA and Dublin was out of luck as Paris took the EBA.

To see so much hard work whisked away by the hands of fate was more than some could stomach. Italy’s EU Affairs Minister Sandro Gozi likened it to “losing a final on penalties”. A feeling Italian football fans will be only too familiar with.

The three-round vote and tie-break procedure was agreed long before yesterday’s fateful General Affairs Council. When asked by journalists a week ago whether EU countries would accept the result of a coin-toss, Estonian Presidency sources just shrugged and said they’d had no complaints so far.

But a week ago it wasn’t an issue: nobody expected a tie-break at all, let alone for both agencies. So is tossing a coin really an appropriate way to make decisions with potentially massive ramifications?

At first glance, the answer is clearly no. Imagine if complex and controversial issues like the renewal of the glyphosate licence, the rule of law procedure against Poland or corporate tax rates hinged on the fall of a euro coin. It would be ridiculous.

Or would it? After all, the Council made two major decisions in one afternoon, despite a lack of consensus.

Maybe the threat of the coin-toss is what is needed to make all EU law-making a bit snappier.

For binary decisions like the EMA and EBA relocation it is a brutal but effective method.

And when member states are next battling over whether to ban glyphosate outright, renew it for a limited period or give it the full green light, the sight of Commissioner Andriukaitis reaching for the nearest euro coin should be enough to get them out of their trenches to work on an acceptable compromise.

It may be an unrefined last resort, but the merest possibility of a decision by coin-toss should mean it is never needed: the fear of a chance outcome is the surest way to discover common ground.



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Look out for:

Tomorrow is the ‘autumn package’: Commission Vice-President Dombrovskis and Commissioner Thyssen will announce their assessment of every member state’s national budget. Austria, Germany and Spain have still not submitted draft budgets to the Commission.

Views are the author’s

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