Photographer: Jock Fistick/Bloomberg

Paris and Amsterdam Win Brexit Races for London-Based EU Agencies

Updated on
  • London loses European banking, drug regulators on EU departure
  • French capital wins EBA, No. 1 Dutch city to host EMA

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France and the Netherlands won the contests to host two London-based European Union agencies in the first concrete political victories in the battle for Brexit spoils.

The EU’s banking authority will move to Paris and the medicines regulator will relocate to Amsterdam by the time Britain departs from the 28-nation bloc in March 2019. The two cities emerged victorious against a slew of other candidates after a series of secret ballots by EU governments on Monday in Brussels. In each case, a drawing of lots after a tie in the third and last round was needed to reach a final result.

“It was a tight competition,” Matti Maasikas, deputy minister for European affairs of Estonia, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, told reporters after the voting by the bloc’s general-affairs ministers. “It fell to me to draw the lot.”

The decisions cap months of lobbying over applications by 19 cities ranging from Stockholm to Bucharest that sought to lure the European Medicines Agency and of eight offers -- including by Dublin, Frankfurt and Vienna -- for the European Banking Authority. The losers in the drawing of lots were the Irish capital for the EBA and Milan for the EMA.

The campaign to woo the EMA and EBA funneled a side effect of Brexit into a long EU tradition of intense maneuvering by member nations for the political and economic rewards that come with hosting pieces of Europe’s extensive regulatory machinery.

The EMA, which evaluates applications for new drugs and oversees the safety of medicines, employs about 900 people and attracts 36,000 visitors a year to London from government, science and industry. The EBA works to align banking rules in the EU and has fewer than 200 employees.

Veneer of Objectivity

Amsterdam lured the EMA by promising to build a new office in the Zuidas area of the city, already home to companies including paint maker Akzo Nobel NV and bank ABN Amro Group NV. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte called the result “good news” for the Netherlands on his Facebook page.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who this year became the country’s youngest leader since Napoleon after he ran a pro-EU campaign against anti-euro, anti-immigration challenger Marine Le Pen, hailed the victory of Paris.

“Paris will welcome the EBA!” Macron said in a Twitter posting. “This is the acknowledgment of the attractiveness and European commitment of France.”

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire and his deputy, Benjamin Griveaux, toured European capitals to lobby for Paris’s bid, using Macron’s pledge to bolster the domestic economy as a selling point.

While highly political, the process for picking the new homes of the two agencies was given a veneer of objectivity through criteria that the EU fixed for the applications. These included accessibility, availability of schools and health care for staff families, and an assurance of operational readiness when Brexit happens.

Geographical Spread

Another criterion stressed “geographical spread,” which touched on the highly sensitive question of balance among the northern, southern, eastern and western parts of Europe when it comes to the location of EU agencies.

Several cities in eastern Europe were in the running for both the EBA and the EMA. The failure of those bids risks heightening political tensions between eastern and western Europe over ideas being floated for a core group of EU countries including France and Germany to press ahead with deeper integration, including in the euro area, after Brexit.

Maasikas of Estonia downplayed the likelihood of a deeper East-West split as a result of the victories of Paris and Amsterdam.

“There were criteria,” he said. “The procedure was accepted by everybody and followed to the very letter by the Estonian presidency.”

— With assistance by Nikos Chrysoloras, Joost Akkermans, John Glover, and Helene Fouquet

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