6 reasons why the EMA should come to Brussels

The European Commission is due to publish on the 30th of September an assessment of the offers received from cities to host the European Banking Authority (EBA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA). The two agencies are to be relocated in the context of the UK leaving the EU in March 2019.

The EMA is an agency with 900 highly skilled and qualified staff tasked with the job of regulating human and animal health medicines sold across the Single Market of the European Union. The pharmaceutical industry works closely with the Agency to ensure that products are safe and effective. It also works closely with the European Commission, giving advice on the licensing of drugs and monitoring the safety of products.

The EBA has about 160 professional staff who supervise the rules, standards and guidelines for EU financial institutions. The agency monitors the national implementation of EU banking rules, and promotes compliance by Member States  with financial regulations. It also conducts stress tests for banks operating in the EU.

The contest in Europe to attract these agencies is intense. There are 19 bids to host the EMA and 8 for the relocation of the EBA. Brussels has submitted bids to host both agencies. The bid to host the EBA is widely viewed as a compromise offer to balance between the two strong contending candidacies of Frankfurt and Paris; but it is nonetheless a strong offer that is highly competitive and stands on its own merits.

Details of all offers are available on the website of the European Council. The General Affairs Council will discuss the Commission’s assessment at their meeting on the 17th of October, and a final decision will be taken by the EU 27 member states (excluding the UK) by secret ballot on 20th November with each member state having equal votes.

According to the procedure agreed by the Council, the offers will be assessed on the basis of six criteria:

  1. Guarantees that the agency will be operational when the UK leaves the EU
  2. Accessibility of the location
  3. Schools for the children of the staff
  4. Access to the labour market and health care for the employees’ families
  5. Business continuity
  6. Geographical spread

It can be argued that the question of geographical spread should not strictly be a relevant consideration; it merely pays lip service to the time honoured EU tradition of “sharing out the cake” and achieving a consensus, to ensure that every member is satisfied.

In the lobbying for the competition to win the Council’s decision, already complaints have been raised that Belgium hosts too many EU institutions. But it must be remembered that there are efficiencies of scale and important cost reductions to be gained by centralising certain operations, and we should not dismiss the disadvantages of dissipating efforts and inflating travel costs through the needless scattering of institutions across the European Union. To be utterly pragmatic, the unusual circumstances of the hurried relocation of these agencies calls for decisions to be based on an objective analysis of the quality of the bids, on their cost-effectiveness, operational efficiency and not on political expediency.

Nothing has been agreed yet about who should bear the cost of relocation, nor about giving the staff of the agencies a say in the choice of relocation. There is a particular issue with the expensive lease conditions of the office accommodation in East London currently occupied by the EMA. But clearly, any decision must be weighted strongly in favour of the choice of destination for relocation that will maximise staff retention in order to ensure continuity, and to minimise both operational disruption and inconvenience.

The Belgian bid for the EMA  lists 5 reasons why Brussels should host the agency:

  1. Brussels offers a smooth transition from London
  2. Brussels enjoys a central European location and prime infrastructure
  3. Belgium has a world class research and development environment
  4. Belgium has an unrivalled Life Science Industry
  5. Brussels has a famously excellent Quality of Life

To this list I would add a sixth, which is the talent pool of Belgium’s multicultural, tolerant, liberal and polyglot community; Belgium is an excellent country in which to bring up a multinational family, and where children feel comfortable in finding that they are in the majority when they have parents who speak different mother tongue languages. Any agency recruiting staff in Belgium will have no difficulty in attracting a wealth of well educated and highly qualified international cosmopolitan personnel in this city.