BN Report


Real winner of race for the European Medicines Agency

Europe’s chief drugs regulator got exactly what he wanted when Amsterdam was named the new host of the European Medicines Agency. Officially, the EMA’s nearly 900 employees had no say on their post-Brexit home. Geopolitics and favor-swapping looked likely to drive the outcome. Yet after just one round of voting by member countries on Monday, it was clear that Executive Director Guido Rasi and his staff’s wishes would be granted: Only cities shown by internal polling to be attractive locations for more than two-thirds of staff — Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Milan — advanced. Regional alliances that could have favored an Eastern or Central European country never materialized. “I was not in the room to vote, but my understanding [is] that our message — and that the overall message — was very clear,” Rasi told reporters Tuesday. “It was not about relocating a building or an agency. It was about maintaining an established activity, delegated through 31 member states to one institution,” he added, referring to the EU28 and other countries in the region that work with the EMA. Delivering that message required a careful balancing act, diplomats said, and the 63-year-old Italian nearly took it too far with leaked internal surveys and concerns about the families of LGBT staff. However, his strategic warnings about the consequences of losing staff appear to have resonated. “I would have done the same thing if I had been in his shoes” — Vincenzo Salvatore, former general counsel for the EMA Pharma, patient groups and other parts of the health sector refused to go public with their preferred (and feared) candidates, despite their private preferences for wealthy Western cities. The most explicit preferences ultimately came from EMA staff, elevated by Rasi. “I would have done the same thing if I had been in his shoes,” said Vincenzo Salvatore, a former general counsel for the EMA, now counsel at the law firm BonelliErede, who helped push for Milan’s bid. “The take home message was, ‘Be careful because if you move the agency to a place where most people will not move, that may cause a problem.’” But one EU diplomat called Rasi’s maneuvering a “biased campaign with a potential of spreading panic among the general public.” ‘Below the belt’ Things could have played out very, very differently. Rather than a runoff among accessible Western cities that would easily attract staff and accommodate EMA demands, the health sector feared an inconvenient political compromise. Newer member countries made a powerful argument that it was their turn, noting the EU’s official policy of spreading agencies around. Most of the six criteria to be evaluated by the Commission focused on business continuity, but the lack of an agency was included as a political outlier. Slovakia gained momentum as the most qualified of those countries. Not long after 19 countries formally submitted their applications to host the EMA in July, the drumbeat from Canary Wharf started. LGBT staff wrote to EU leaders, worried that they’d be forced to choose between their families and their jobs if the agency moved to a country that doesn’t recognize same-sex partnerships. That meant Slovakia, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria. Rasi lent weight to their concerns by calling on all applicants to clarify their policies, and the Central and Eastern European countries faced awkward questions while they presented their bids in Brussels. The EMA will move outside of Britain after Brexit | Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images In September, while the Commission worked on its assessment — promising not to do any sort of ranking or shortlist of the bids, Rasi did his own research. He polled the staff, asking if they were likely to relocate to the each of the 19 cities. Amsterdam, Barcelona, Vienna, Milan and Copenhagen were the only cities that would draw more than two-thirds of the staff, and the only ones that would allow for a smooth transition. The bottom eight performers would cause a “public health crisis,” according to an EMA analysis. They were all from far-flung cities, including many in Europe’s Eastern half, and the figures were humiliating: Only 26 percent would move to Helsinki; 14 percent to Bratislava; Warsaw, 10; Bucharest, eight; Sofia, six. Few believe the EMA’s claims that the figures were meant to be private. The agency posted versions of them online after POLITICO published the documents; an industry source speculated that the leaks were intentional. Days before the Commission’s milquetoast assessment was due, Rasi shared the survey results with EMA staff in an auditorium. The documents circulated around member country embassies and foreign offices, too. Central and Eastern European diplomats were livid. “This is one of those blows below the belt that we expected,” one Eastern European diplomat said after Rasi echoed LGBT staff concerns in September. The first EU diplomat was more blunt on Tuesday. “The activities and survey by [the] EMA were rather dubious — i.e. campaign on LGBTI rights without even asking what the situation is in the bidding countries, various internal staff surveys and spinning them into the media etc.,” the diplomat said in an email. “Obviously the activities were aimed to influence the process and the results against some candidates.” Regional indignation hardened the sense among some newer member countries — many of whom were not running and thus had votes to spare — that they needed to stick together. Another Brussels-based diplomat recalled a heated debate in October where Central and Eastern European officials said the LGBT letter and survey were meant to cast their countries as unattractive. Others tried to calm them by opening a discussion about moving the Eurogroup presidency eastward to show EU solidarity. ‘My people’ Newer members were less upset with another unusual EMA document — “technical comments” to inform the Commission’s assessment, also made public only after leaking, that used color..


In agencies’ relocation, EU’s East-West divisions laid bare

The choice of Amsterdam and Paris as the new homes for two EU agencies leaving London fueled criticism in Central and Eastern Europe that newer members of the bloc are treated like second-class citizens. The kerfuffle over Monday’s votes to pick new locations for the European Medicines Agency and the European Banking Authority — both uprooting from the British capital due to Brexit — was the latest sign of an East-West split, also laid bare by issues such as migration policy, rule of law and even the quality of ingredients used by international food brands. Slovakia’s leadership is the most openly upset about Monday’s votes. Bratislava was considered a leading candidate to host the EMA, but did not make it past the first round of voting, with Amsterdam winning out in the end. “We do not hide disappointment over the fact that our bid did not succeed despite an excellent offer,” said Peter Susko, spokesman for Slovakia’s foreign ministry. “The citizens of the newer member states expected an opportunity to prove their readiness to host such an important agency as the EMA,” he said, adding that the chance to make a decision based on geographical balance had “fallen through the floor.” Bratislava was not the only city from among the EU’s newer, ex-communist members hoping for a Brexit bonus from the agencies moving out of London. For many politicians in Central and Eastern Europe, the failure to bag even one of the agencies was symptomatic of a wider problem. Bucharest, Warsaw, Sofia and Zagreb all mounted bids to host the EMA. The Croatian capital withdrew hours before the voting, complaining the selection procedure did not take into account all the agreed criteria but “arbitrary findings of the EMA.” Prague and Warsaw vied to host the banking authority, which went to Paris. Fears that the process could exacerbate East-West tensions were manifest in the run-up to the vote. Rumors swirled of a deal brokered by Germany to make sure the spoils were shared — Frankfurt would get the banking body while Bratislava would get the medicines agency. But an EU diplomat said before the vote that such a deal existed “only in journalists’ minds.” ‘Strategic mistake’ For many politicians in Central and Eastern Europe, the failure to bag even one of the agencies was symptomatic of a wider problem. “This decision may rather reflect the existing difficult relationships and weakened trust between the EU’s old members and some Central European new member states as they seem to perceive the current and future EU in different ways,” said Petr Ježek, a Czech MEP from the ANO party of billionaire Andrej Babiš that won the country’s recent general election. Some governments are already suggesting the outcome of the selection process bodes ill for Central and Eastern Europe’s role in upcoming discussions on the EU’s post-Brexit future. “The big lesson from today’s vote is that everything multiple western European member-states and institution leaders say about geographical balance exists in words only,” Szabolcs Takács, state secretary for EU affairs in Hungarian Prime Viktor Orbán’s office, told state news agency MTI late Monday. Central and Eastern Europe was “ignored by many western European member states,” Takács said, adding that “it’s not a good message, when we need to make very serious decisions about the EU’s future.” Polish MEP Ryszard Czarnecki, a member of the governing Law and Justice party, said the decision on the medicines and banking agencies was reminiscent of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, in which “some animals are more equal than others.” “Those decisions can in practice increase distrust between EU countries,” he said. “Two-speed Europe already exists. The decision to choose Amsterdam and Paris will increase Euroskepticism in Central and Eastern Europe. I think that is very short-sighted, and a strategic mistake.” Central and Eastern European countries did not exercise solidarity by voting only for each other. The Polish government apparently sought to put a brave face on failing to land either agency. The government chose the day after the vote to officially open the new Warsaw headquarters of the EU’s Frontex border security agency, which has already been operational for some time. The visit sent the message that Poland had already secured one EU body, even if it had missed out this time. “I am very happy that the Frontex agency will develop here in Warsaw. I hope that this day will go down in history and that it gives us good perspective for future and for the safety of Europe,” Prime Minister Beata Szydło declared at the opening ceremony. Lack of solidarity The failure of any of the EU’s newer members to land either the EBA or EMA — along with economic boost they would have brought — was, however, a more complex story than a simple East-West split. Central and Eastern European countries did not exercise solidarity by voting only for each other, a national diplomat from the region noted in Brussels. Bratislava, for example, obtained 15 votes in the first round of voting for the EMA — which means many of its fellow easterners, who each had six points to distribute among three cities, did not offer much support. From left: Brussels, Amsterdam, Vienna and Copenhagen were among the candidates to host the EMA | Source images via Getty Images Goodies offered by Western European countries to their eastern neighbors may have been one reason the voting did not spile along neat geographical lines. Romania, itself in the running for the EMA in the first round, voted for Milan, Italian EU Affairs Minister Sandro Gozi revealed on Monday. In exchange, Italy promised to support Romania getting a future EU body, such as the European Labour Agency, according to one diplomat with knowledge of the talks. The agency does not exist yet but was proposed by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in his State of the Union address in September. Italy also promised to back Romania joining the b..


5 takeaways from the race to host EU agencies after Brexit

Nail-biting, gripping and unpredictable — not three adjectives you would normally associate with a vote on two technocratic agencies. But the vote on the relocation of the European Medicines Agency and the European Banking Authority from London had us on the edge of our seats. Amsterdam will host the EMA, while the EBA was awarded to Paris. It was by no means a straightforward process, with both votes ending in a tie (and ultimately being decided with Estonia drawing slips of paper out of a plastic bowl) of 13-13. From a rebuffed Eastern Europe to a revamped Paris, there’s a lot to digest from the vote, which took place among the remaining 27 EU countries in the Council on Monday. POLITICO gathered five key takeaways from the dramatic EU vote that some would say puts Eurovision to shame. 1. Eastern and Central Europe got snubbed So much for EU equality. It was only few months ago that Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker spoke of an EU “of equals,” where “its members, big or small, East or West, North or South,” would all be treated the same. Monday’s vote threw Juncker’s talk of equality into disarray, as the EU capitals clearly showed a preference for keeping Brexit’s most prestigious prizes in the hands of Western European countries. “It’s a disappointment,” said a spokesman for the Czech representation in Brussels. “Geographical balance was supposed to be a criterion [in the process]. This wasn’t fulfilled.” Warsaw reacted similarly. “We’d have been happy for our region to host one of those agencies,” a Polish diplomat said, requesting anonymity. “This was very important when we were establishing the criteria for one of the [agencies] so that there would be a geographical balance. That didn’t happen either unfortunately.” “It’s clear that it leaves a bitter taste to lose with a random mechanism, with a ball extracted … on a tossed coin there’s no possible political influence” — Italian EU Affairs Minister Sandro Gozi Czech and Polish representatives refrained from expressing their disappointment during the voting process, one diplomat in the room told POLITICO. “There was no reaction as such,” the Council official said. “There were some human reactions. Some smiled and some smiled less.” The Slovakian response was much clearer, with Bratislava abstaining from voting in the second and final rounds in protest, resulting in a tie between Amsterdam and Milan. 2. Amsterdam: An accidental, but technically objective decision The “anything” that many predicted would happen, happened, but not in the way people expected it to. Instead of the agencies ending up in some place nobody saw coming, it was left to chance. Despite all the lobbying and promises of NATO troops from the Italians and the Irish withdrawing from the EMA race to focus on the EBA, the hand of the Estonian Deputy Minister for EU Affairs Matti Maasikas was unlucky for Milan and Dublin: Amsterdam won the EMA and Paris nabbed the EBA. The Italians managed to convince 12 other countries with their charm and promises, but that ultimately didn’t matter. “It’s clear that it leaves a bitter taste to lose with a random mechanism, with a ball extracted … on a tossed coin there’s no possible political influence,” Italian EU Affairs Minister Sandro Gozi said upon leaving the General Affairs Council meeting on Monday evening. The hazard of the final decision in both cases showed not only how tight the race was, but also how divided the 27 remaining countries of the EU are, with only one abstention (from Slovakia) enough to lead to a perfect stalemate. And though the process was prime for political decision-making, a bid that consistently came out on top based on non-political criteria for the EMA relocation carried the day. In the few analyses that ranked bids, Amsterdam consistently came out on top, excluding criteria such as geographical balance. It was the favorite in EMA staff’s ranking of cities they would prefer to relocate to from London. In an assessment commissioned by the EU’s drug industry lobby EFPIA, Amsterdam came in second best in a tie with Brussels, after Copenhagen. But Amsterdam ranked behind Copenhagen in the EFPIA review because it won’t quite be ready for the medicines agency in time for Brexit. Conference facilities for the EMA will be ready by the first days after Brexit, Wouter Bos, the Netherlands’ special ambassador for the EMA, told POLITICO. But some of the office space may not be complete for another five or six months after that. 3. Paris, the new City of London Although the EBA may not bring the economic spoils that the EMA promises, it represents something much bigger for Paris — the chance to be the new financial center of the EU. With London and the U.K. out of the bloc, countries are vying to attract the biggest banks, financial infrastructure, and other City firms into their capitals. While investment firms are still finalizing their contingency plans for when Brexit takes effect, other financial centers in the EU are already battling to become the go-to city for relocating banks. Placing the EBA in Paris means it has two major financial watchdogs — it will join the markets authority, ESMA. So, if a bank was deliberating between croissants or currywurst, this could help make up its mind. As French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted following the result: “It’s a recognition of France’s attractiveness and European engagement. Happy and proud for our country.” Aerial view of Paris with the Eiffel tower shrouded in haze | Yoan Valat/EPA-EFE 4. Germany not on its game? This vote couldn’t have come at a worse time for Germany, which is in the midst of a government crisis. For onlookers, Frankfurt was a sure-fire winner for the EBA — it would have been a natural addition to the European Central Bank (ECB) and the insurance watchdog — but it didn’t even make it to the final round of voting. (This despite reports that it made a deal with Greece over support for respective EMA and EBA bids...

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