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Paris and Amsterdam have been chosen as the new homes for two prized EU agencies, after ministers in Brussels resorted to picking a names from a hat to decide where the two organisations and their combined 1,000 staff should move after Brexit.
Three rounds of voting in Brussels failed to produce a clear winner in the contests to relocate the European Banking Authority and the far larger European Medicines Agency, which are both currently based in London.
Amsterdam tied with Milan in the final-round vote for the EMA, which 16 countries had sought to win, while Paris pipped Dublin after lots were drawn in the race for the EBA.
“You could not make it up if you tried,” said one EU diplomat.
The EBA decision is a big victory for French President Emmanuel Macron, who is looking to push Paris as the EU’s premier financial centre after Brexit. The result means the French capital will now play host to both of the EU authorities responsible for setting banking standards, as well as the European Securities and Markets Authority, or Esma — an agency responsible for regulating financial trading.
The choices made by the EU27 foreign ministers in Brussels mark one of the first tangible steps the bloc has taken so far to prepare for Brexit. The EMA, with more than 900 staff, is seen as one of the biggest prizes in the EU’s network of more than 40 agencies, which are scattered across the continent.
The two decisions were the culmination of months of ferocious lobbying. Frontrunners jostled behind the scenes for votes, making promises to other countries ranging from future help in securing EU jobs to supporting more military assistance on the Russian border and participation in migrant patrols on the Mediterranean Sea.
The London headquarters of the European Medicines Agency. Its 900 jobs will now move to Amsterdam © AP
Under a complex, multi-round process, ministers began by each assigning a three-point vote, a two-point vote and a one-point vote to different candidates, with the three best performing cities then advancing to the next round.
For the EMA, the system was used to whittle the 16-strong field to three — Milan, Amsterdam and Copenhagen — then to a head-to-head between the Dutch and Italian cities.
After the pair tied for support with 16 votes each in the final round, it fell to the minister from Estonia, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, to reach into a large bowl and pick the winner.
The biggest shock of the first round of EMA voting was the elimination of Bratislava, which had been viewed as a frontrunner, not least because central and eastern Europe are under-represented when it comes to EU agencies. The Slovak capital finished in fourth place with 15 points, behind Milan on 25 and Amsterdam and Copenhagen on 20.
Slovakia abstained from voting in the second and third rounds in protest at the lack of a smaller member state in the contest.
“This decision is strictly political and we expected that at least one member state from the region would go after the first round to the second round,” said Tomas Drucker, Slovakia’s health minister.
“I think it’s not fair. It’s not a good message for Europe’s inhabitants”, said the minister.
According to an EMA internal staff survey, more than 70 per cent of its staff would have left had the agency moved to Bratislava. The predicted staff retention rates for Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Milan were all far higher.
For the EBA, Frankfurt, Paris and Dublin emerged as the frontrunners from the first round of voting, with the German city then eliminated in the second round. One country spoiled their ballot in the final round, producing a tie.
The EMA’s executive director, Guido Rasi, said Amsterdam “ticks many of our boxes”. It offered “excellent connectivity and a building that can be shaped according to our needs”.
Additional reporting by Sarah Neville in London