Continental cities vie for London’s EU agencies

By on 04/08/2017 | Updated on 24/09/2020
"It is one of the Continent's main transport hubs, offering outstanding connections to all of the major financial centres both in Europe and around the globe" Germany's finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble on Frankfurt's bid (Image courtesy: Raimond Spekking).

A contest to attract the European Union’s UK-based medicines and banking regulators has begun, with 23 cities across Europe bidding to host one or more of the EU agencies.

The prestigious bodies, which are currently based in London, will have to move when Britain leaves the EU in March 2019 because they must be based within a country that is under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

Of the 27 remaining EU member states, 21 had lodged bids for one of the regulatory agencies by the deadline on Monday 31 July. Six countries submitted bids for both agencies, although the rules of the contest require them to move to different member states.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA), which tests new drugs, and the European Banking Authority (EBA), which sets banking rules, are widely perceived as being among the EU’s crown jewels. They are both currently based at Canary Wharf in London’s Docklands.

The EMA, which employs 890 people and hosts 36,000 visitors per year, and the EBA, with 189 staff and more than 9,000 annual visitors, are expected to bring substantial spin-off benefits to the host cities, such as hotel bookings and demand for services. Hosting the agencies can also help strengthen existing industries within their field of regulation.

Frankfurt, Paris and Luxembourg are the favourites among eight cities that have applied to host the EBA, while 19 cities are competing for the EMA, with some of the hardest lobbying coming from Amsterdam, Dublin and Copenhagen.

Some cities keen to reap the spoils of Brexit have submitted glossy brochures and videos with their bids, while others are offering juicy financial incentives. Dublin is offering €78 million over 10 years towards rent and building refurbishment for the EMA and €13.5 million for the EBA, in packages that also include a generous relocation allowance.

Amsterdam’s jazzy video presentation pledges a new purpose-built headquarters for the EMA plus more than €5 million for relocation programmes, and begins with a teasing message welcoming the agency to move to the Netherlands.

“After all, we’re not that different,” the voice-over intones gamely. “We also have a very stylish queen and we enjoy fish and chips. Besides, our grasp of your language is outstanding.”

French president Emmanuel Macron is fronting Paris’s bid for the EBA, while Germany’s finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble is the advocate for front-runner Frankfurt.

“It is one of the Continent’s main transport hubs, offering outstanding connections to all of the major financial centres both in Europe and around the globe,” says Schäuble. “Its dense network of banks, insurance companies, and national and European institutions and supervisory bodies is a unique asset that no other financial centre in Europe can match.”

Amsterdam’s amusing bid claims “…we’re not that different…we also have a very stylish queen and we enjoy fish and chips.” (Image courtesy: Dohduhdah)

Following strong initial interest in the agencies the European Commission drew up special rules for the selection process, which were agreed by member states on 22 June. They involve six criteria for assessing bids:

  • guarantees that the agency will be operational when Brexit takes place;
  • the accessibility of the location;
  • availability of schools for the children of agency staff;
  • access to the labour market and health care provision for employees’ families;
  • business continuity;
  • the geographical spread of EU agencies.

The commission will now assess the 23 bids against the criteria, and publish a report by 30 September. Ministers from all 27 remaining member states will then hold a ‘political’ discussion on the bids at a special meeting of the Council of Ministers in October, before voting on the matter in November.

Ministers will use a three-stage voting system to choose the winners, which pundits have likened to the Eurovision Song Contest. The EMA vote is held first. The secret ballot will have up to three rounds. Each country will have six points in the first round. They have to give three points to their preferred bid, two to their second choice, and one to a third choice.

If a city’s bid receives three points from a majority of member states, it will be the winner. And if no bids meet this threshold, the three cities with the most points will enter the second round, in which each country has one vote. Here, any city gaining an absolute majority of votes wins.

If no city gains an absolute majority, a third round is held for the two cities with the most votes. In this round, each country also has one vote, and the city with the most votes wins. If there is a tie, lots will be drawn for a winner.

With all but six of the 27 member states who will vote also having at least one bid on the table, some political horse-trading is likely to take place behind the scenes.

The commission has repeatedly called for a quick decision on the transfer in order to avoid disruption to the two key regulatory bodies as we approach the set date for Brexit of 29 March 2019.

For a full list of cities bidding for the two agencies, visit:

For up to date government news and international best practice follow us on Twitter @globegov

See also:

Parliamentary maths looks set to change UK’s Brexit course

EU pledges Brexit transparency

Report: ‘Deluded’ UK cannot afford to be smug on Brexit


About Liz Heron

Liz Heron is a journalist based in London. She worked on daily newspapers for more than 16 years as an education correspondent, section editor and general news reporter. She was Education Editor of the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong and has contributed to a wide range of British media including The Independent, The Guardian and the BBC.

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