The future of EU agencies based in London will be part of tomorrow’s EU-27 summit, an issue that could erode the unity that European leaders want to showcase before divorce talks with the UK begin.
Presidents of the European Council and the European Commission, Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker, will propose to the 27 heads of State or Government a general approach for the relocation of the European Medicines Agency and the European Banking Authority, a senior EU official said.
Tusk and Juncker expect the EU leaders to support an “ambitious” calendar to decide on the future seat of these agencies as soon as possible. A decision that will be based on objective criteria, the source added.
Commission’s chief spokesperson Margaritis Schinas commented that both presidents are “working together to propose and objective and transparent process that will give clarity” to the discussion.
In 2012, the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament outlined the “objective criteria” to decide the seating of EU agencies.
These consist of: the assurance that the agency can be set up on site once it is founded; the accessibility of the location, the existence of “adequate” schools, and “appropriate access” to the labour market, social security and health care for the staff’s families.
Following tomorrow’s green-light, both presidents will detail the calendar and the criteria in order to take a decision in the coming weeks. Their contribution will be discussed and approved during the next summit in June. Only then will the EU-27 take a decision based on a Commission proposal.
The two presidents want to reach a decision quickly in order to ensure a stable transition of the two agencies to their new destination, given that they are two of the most powerful regulatory bodies in the EU.
The battle between national governments to bring these agencies to their territory could breach the desired unity national governments are trying to display before Brexit talks begin.
A senior EU official described the unity of the capitals as “unique” with regards to the guidelines that will shape the negotiations with London.
The leaders are expected to endorse them tomorrow without any difficulty. “Expect a short EU meeting”, the source added. The summit will begin at 12.30pm, and is expected to conclude around 4pm.
“I have never seen net beneficiaries and net contributors [to the EU budget] working together so closely”, the official observed, referring to the financial costs Britain will have to cover before leaving the EU.
The Brexit bill, EU citizens’ rights in UK and UK citizens’ rights in the EU and Northern Ireland (its border and reunification with Ireland), will be the first points on the agenda.
What does ‘sufficient’ mean?
The summit is also expected to formally endorse the phased approach proposed by Tusk: the bloc will start discussing the new association agreement with the UK only when “sufficient progress has been made” on the three main issues to guarantee an “orderly withdrawal”.
Capitals hold different “sensitivities” in regards to what “sufficient” means, a senior EU official admitted. It will be one of the few issues to be discussed by the EU leaders, as the consensus is broad on the remainder of the subjects.
But leaders also are ready to raise their voice with respect to the distribution of the EU agencies.
Member states without any EU agency (Croatia, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Romania and Slovakia) are wary that the two EU bodies might end up in Spain, which holds five European agencies and bodies, or Frankfurt, where two powerful institutions – including the ECB – are already located.
More precise criteria sought
Some governments are calling also to readjust the criteria set by the EU institutions for the location of the EU agencies.
Asked by EURACTIV whether the 2012 Joint Statement and Common Approach on EU decentralised agencies is enough for the relocation of EMA, Irish minister for Health Simon Harris replied that he was in favor of more “precise criteria”.
“It is my preference from the first day, I have said this consistently that the clearer criteria the better for a decision to be made,” he noted, adding that in the process EMA staff should also be involved.
“Not necessarily which country they wish to move but what factors would determine the relocation to remain or leave the agency,” he said.
Simon today presented Dublin’s bid to host the EMA. He agreed that the decision should not be political but rather focused on objective criteria to ensure that the work of the agency could continue.
Presenting the advantages of the Irish bid, he underlined the geographical and cultural proximity to the UK, which assists in terms of an easy transition. He also emphasised robust ICT services, a vibrant community of scientists and the fact that nine of the top ten pharma manufacturers were located in Ireland.
It was notable that Simon stressed that the EU drugs agency should be relocated to a country that is committed to remaining within the EU.