All but six European Union states are bidding to host one or both the London-based EU agencies that will be relocated after Brexit, setting up a competition that could easily escalate into a squabble.
Races for the jobs and prestige associated with hosting EU agencies often become heated, but this diplomatic contest risks weakening the unity of the EU’s 27 remaining states in the midst of delicate two-year Brexit talks that started in March.
Nineteen cities have made themselves candidates to host the European Medicines Agency (EMA) while eight are offering to give the European Banking Authority (EBA) a home, the Council of the European Union said on Tuesday.
“The two agencies will need to be relocated in the context of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. The future locations need to be decided by common agreement of the EU27 member states,” the council statement said.
Only Hungary, Slovenia, Cyprus and the three Baltic states of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia decided not to join the fray.
Germany, France, Ireland, Austria, Poland and Belgium are bidding for both the agencies.
The European Commission will assess the candidates by September but the decision rests with EU leaders who will try to reach a consensus deal at their next summit in October. A final decision is expected a month later.
“We will now proceed in assessing all offers in an objective manner,” European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva told reporters.
The EMA employs nearly 900 staff and acts as a one-stop-shop for approving and monitoring the safety of drugs across Europe. With an annual budget of $360 million and currently attracting 36,000 experts a year to London for meetings, it is a prized asset.
Milan, Copenhagen, Athens, Amsterdam and Barcelona are among the candidates to host the agency, with Milan seen as a possible frontrunner.
The EBA, whose 160 employees write and coordinate banking rules for the bloc, is coveted by Frankfurt, Paris, Luxembourg and Prague, among others. The German financial hub is viewed as likely to have the upper hand as it already hosts the European Central Bank and the EU insurance agency.
Vienna, Warsaw, Dublin and Brussels, which is home to the EU’s executive Commission, submitted applications to host both the agencies.
The cities seen as leading the race for the EMA are Amsterdam, Barcelona and Lille in France, with Athens, Bonn, Bratislava, Brussels, Bucharest, Copenhagen, Dublin, Helsinki, Milan, Porto, Sofia, Stockholm, Malta, Vienna, Warsaw and Zagreb also in contention.
The German financial hub of Frankfurt is the frontrunner for the EBA, followed by Paris and Luxembourg and Prague, while Brussels, Dublin, Vienna and Warsaw have also bid.
‘Eurovision’ voting system
The choice of new host cities will be made via a complicated points system that officials have compared to the Eurovision song contest.
The European Commission will evaluate the bids, considering criteria such as accessibility for current employees, work opportunities for their spouses and schools for their children.
It will also look at whether a country already hosts other EU agencies to ensure they are not monopolised.
The EU 27 will then hold a political discussion on the offers in October before a secret vote in November.
Each country will have six voting points — three for its first preference, two points for the second and one for the third.
While they are allowed to vote for themselves they are also expected to take the commission’s assessments into account.
If any one gets three points from 14 or more members then it automatically wins — otherwise there is a second round for the top three candidate cities but with each country only getting one vote each.
Should there still be no clear winner, there will be a third and final knock-out round between the two final candidates.