Relocation of UK agencies to be decided by Eurovision-style vote

A Eurovision vote. [YouTube]

The post-Brexit relocation of the two London-based European agencies will be decided by a points-based vote which resembles the Eurovision song contest, EURACTIV has learned ahead of a summit on Thursday (22 June) where EU leaders will agree on the criteria and the voting rules.

“We hope a decision can be taken on the procedure” for selecting the countries where the EU agencies will be relocated after Brexit, said a senior diplomat from a big member state who was briefing journalists ahead of the summit.

The European Banking Authority (EBA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) will move outside the UK once the country officially leaves the Union, which should happen by April 2019.

Commission wants to speed up relocation of UK-based agencies

The European Commission wants to find a new seat for London-based EU agencies as soon as possible. The United Kingdom will have no say in the process.

The key objective, the diplomat stressed, is to ensure the continuity of work performed by organisations like EMA, which decides on the market approval for drugs across the 28 EU member states.

“The EMA has a fundamental role in Europe – an exclusive one – so it would be unthinkable that its work be interrupted,” the diplomat said.

Speed is of the essence

The speed of the decision-making process will be essential in this respect, the diplomat continued, referring to earlier discussions on the location of the EU’s Frontex border agency. They took “half a dozen sessions of the European Council” before it was finally allocated to Poland, a prospective EU member at the time.

Those were “horribly difficult talks”, the diplomat recalled, saying the EU could not afford such sluggishness this time around.

The EU’s 28 European affairs ministers met in Luxembourg earlier this week in the General Affairs Council to discuss the voting system but “a couple of countries” rejected the proposed voting system, EURACTIV was told.

A voting system is necessary because a unanimous agreement is not a realistic option, said a diplomat from a Central European member state which is among the candidates to host EMA.

There are 20 or 21 candidates to host EMA, the diplomat indicated. A criterion agreed in 2003 is that preference should go to those countries that do not have an agency yet. These currently include Bulgaria, Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Cyprus.

But other criteria require host cities to provide job opportunities for the spouses of EU officials and international schools for their children.

The so-called “old” EU member states from Western Europe generally qualify better in this respect. In addition, the accessibility of the candidate city and its travel connections must also be taken into account. An agency such as EMA hosts many foreign visitors who need convenient flights and hotel accommodation, EU officials say.

Cyprus, a small island country away from Brussels, the capital of Europe, has openly disapproved of such criteria.

Assuming the EU leaders agree on a set of criteria at this week’s EU summit, the candidate countries are expected to file a detailed application by the end of July. The European Commission will then assess the candidates and give its opinion by 15 September and the vote is expected in November.

In the first round, each of the 27 counties will have six votes – three for its first candidate of choice, two for the second and one for the third. In this manner, the top three candidates will be shortlisted. In the next phase, each country will have one vote, which will eliminate the third-placed candidate. The final vote will then select the winner.

The final decision is expected to be taken at the General Affairs Council in October where European Affairs ministers will cast their vote.

The result is expected to be rubber-stamped by EU leaders at the European Council on October 19-20.

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