The slow-motion EU break-up triggered by the UK referendum held on 23 June shocked financial markets across Europe, weakened struggling banks in countries like Italy and alerted ‘eurocrats’ to the political risks of being too strict when EU rules are breached in times of social unrest. Spain and Portugal’s budgetary slippages are prime examples.
But Britain’s exit from the European club also brings precious opportunities for others, as the country will have to get rid of its EU agencies: the European Banking Authority (EBA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA), both based in London.
Both are among the most influential EU agencies. They play a major role in regulating two of the most profitable sectors and they are popular targets for lobbyists and companies.
As the EU and the UK begin to prepare their divorce negotiations, few member states thrown their hat into the ring to fight for the two agencies.
Italy and Spain have been not only the most vocal about their intentions to bring the EBA and EMA headquarters to their territory, but have also set up special groups to start preparing their candidacies.
Madrid supports Barcelona
In Spain, the campaign has brought Madrid and Barcelona together, after months of bitter dispute between the national and regional governments caused by Catalonia’s secessionist efforts.
Spain’s Deputy Prime-Minister Soraya Saez de Santa María said on Thursday (28 July) that the central government will work “closely and in coordination” with the Catalonian government to “fight for Barcelona as the seat of EMA.”
She recalled that the city became second when London was elected to host the EU drugs agency. In order to strengthen the Spanish candidacy this time, she announced that the Ministry of Health is preparing to publish a report backing Barcelona’s bid.
As for the EBA, Spain is promoting Madrid as the ideal place to relocate the agency.
The decision to relocate the EBA could be taken as part of the Brexit talks, once Article 50 is activated, or as part of the review of its regulation, which takes place every three years, and where the three institutions would play a role.
The last review took place in late 2015.
EU officials noted that the final say is in the member states’ hands. Article 341 of the treaties stipulates that “The seat of the institutions of the Union shall be determined by common accord of the governments of the member states.”
Meanwhile, other voices warned of the damage that could be caused to the agencies once they are relocated.
Richard Bergström, head of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations, said that the process of moving the EMA would be “very messy”. In his view, its expertise would be damaged as “huge numbers” of people with deep institutional knowledge might quit the agency, putting at risk the quality of its regulatory work.