Spanish Minister for Health Dolors Montserrat said today (24 May) that Barcelona is “first in the class” in meeting all the criteria to host the European Medicines Agency (EMA). She also insisted that the central government supports Catalonia’s bid to host it after Brexit.
The EMA and the European Banking Authority are the two EU agencies currently based in London. Both regulators will be relocated once Britain exits the bloc in March 2019.
“We will be united in the candidacy, we will fight together” because “we are defending the interest of the Catalonian people and all Spanish people”, Monserrat told reporters.
She visited Brussels to meet with Commissioner for Health Vytenis Andriukaitis and other senior EU officials.
“We are coordinating with the regional government of Catalonia (Generalitat) and with the City Hall of Barcelona,” she explained.
But the minister was not accompanied by representatives from regional or local authorities in her visit to the EU institutions.
She argued that today’s meetings were purely “technical discussions” to exchange views on the document drafted by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk, and shared with EU ministers last Monday.
According to the document, leaked to the Financial Times, member states have to put forward their candidates to host the two agencies by 31 July. After several rounds of votes, the final decision is expected to be taken by October.
But Catalonian authorities are speeding up the legal process to call for a referendum around that date.
According to a draft law published by El Pais, the regional government is even ready to proclaim independence unilaterally if Spain forbids the organisation of a referendum, as Madrid has already warned.
Despite the growing tensions between the central government and the Generalitat, Montserrat said that the referendum would not “at all” affect Spain’s chances of winning the EMA bid.
She added that she had not been asked about this by the EU authorities.
All the criteria
The Spanish minister has on numerous occasions insisted that Barcelona already meets all the objective criteria included in the document shared with the ministers this week. First among them, the continuity of the agency’s work flow.
“The building is ready, it is empty, and we can hand over the keys today,” she told reporters. The “iconic” building offered by Spain for the EMA seat is the Agbar tower, designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, and one of the landmarks of Barcelona’s skyline
The minister also highlighted the city’s connectivity (around 80 flights to other European cities), its 42 international schools and its hotel capacity, capable of hosting more than 100,000 visitors, as it proved during the Mobile World Congress.
Spain has also foreseen a budget increase for the national medicines agency (Agencia Española de Medicamentos y Productos Sanitarios) to deal with the EU agency’s tasks temporarily and ensure a smooth transition.
As the minister pointed out, the national agency is already the most involved regulator in helping the EMA, and in terms of staff numbers it is second only to the British national agency.
Spain is also banking on the attractiveness of Barcelona as a destination. According to an internal poll of EMA staff, the city was the preferred candidate to host the agency.
“Today we are first option. In 1992, Barcelona was the finalist,” she recalled. “We are not going to lose this opportunity now.”
But three EU agencies are already located in Spain, and three smaller EU bodies are also in its territory. Meanwhile, Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Cyprus and Slovakia remain without any EU agencies.
Juncker and Tusk highlighted in their document “the desirability of geographical spread of the agencies’ seats”.
But they recalled that this principle, agreed by the three EU institutions in 2003, refers to the location of new agencies, not the relocation of existing ones.
“We cannot decide depending on what country does not have an agency,” she warned, as she insisted on a “transparent and objective process” to ensure the proper functioning of the EMA.
Besides her visit to Brussels today, the Spanish minister has in recent weeks met with most of her colleagues in the EU.
“They know they have a great rival before them,” she said.