Amsterdam and Paris won the right to host the two EU agencies that must leave London on Brexit after a dramatic ministerial meeting in Brussels that left both result decided by drawing lots after votes were tied.
The European Medicines Authority (EMA), a key player in the continent’s healthcare industry, will go to Amsterdam, which pipped the favourite Milan, and the European Banking Authority (EBA) will go to Paris, winner in the lucky dip over Dublin.
“It’s like losing a final on penalties,” Italy’s EU affairs minister Sandro Gozi told reporters, adding that it had left a “bitter taste in the mouth” for an EMA bid that was not behind at any stage. He rejected, however, talk of “betrayal” among any allies who had promised Milan support before the secret ballot.
The outcome was welcomed by European pharmaceuticals bodies. The EMA had warned that many of its staff might quit, possibly disrupting healthcare in Europe, if governments had chosen a less attractive host city, notably in the ex-communist east.
Steve Bates, CEO of Britain’s BioIndustry Association said: “Businesses now need certainty. The best way to do this is by an early agreement to a transition timeframe and continued close regulatory cooperation. We must now ensure Brexit does not disrupt the safe supply of vital medicines to tens of millions of families in the EU 27 and the UK.”
Eastern governments were left empty-handed.
Frankfurt, home to the European Central Bank and aiming to be the Union’s primary financial centre after Brexit, suffered a blow when it was badly beaten in the second round of EBA voting.
In a third round, Paris overhauled Dublin, which had been just one vote short of a second-round majority. With the scores in the runoff tied again by abstention, Paris won when the Estonian minister chairing the meeting again had to draw lots.
Eastern governments had emphasised that there are relatively few EU agencies located in the countries which joined the bloc only after the Cold War. But their hopes were dashed.
In the EMA voting, Slovakia, whose capital Bratislava was pipped into fourth place in the first round, abstained in protest at the failure of any eastern city to progress.
In all, 19 cities had bid for the prestige and economic boost that the arrival of the EMA’s 900 staff and many offices for international pharmaceuticals companies will bring.
Estonia’s EU minister Matti Maasikas, who was chairing the voting session, called the contest “a sad reminder of the concrete consequences of Brexit”. Britain is due to leave the EU in March 2019.
Despite fierce competition, the 27 EU states were keen to avoid any protracted and bruising dispute over the matter as they see preserving unity as essential in facing Brexit, the biggest setback in the post-World War Two history of European integration.
“Whatever the outcome, the real winner of today’s vote is EU27. Organised and getting ready for Brexit,” EU summit chair Donald Tusk tweeted ahead of the votes.