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Peter O'Donnell is a freelance journalist who specializes in European health affairs and is based in Brussels, Belgium.
Nearly every EU member country has put in a bid to host the EMA once the UK leaves the European Union in 2019. The conditions and criteria for doing so are now becoming clear.
Everyone wants the European Medicines Agency once the UK leaves the European Union (even the UK still wants it, but it isn't going to get it!). Since last year, when the implications of the UK's departure became apparent, nearly every EU member country has put in a bid to host the EMA as from 2019 – when Brexit is currently scheduled to happen.
But so far the bids have been informal, unofficial, and even idiosyncratic – and numerous. No longer. In late May, the European Union published a formal invitation to tender – and the conditions and criteria that it sets out are likely to whittle down the number of candidates pretty severely.
How many airports and how many flights and how many taxis can you offer to your suggested location? Top of the list of desiderata is accessibility – and candidates are required to list availability, frequency and duration of flight connections with the capitals of all other EU member states, along with local public transport connections and "the quality and quantity of accommodation facilities". Every year 36,000 visitors come to the agency, for meetings of up to 4 days, which means 30,000 hotel nights, and a daily peak hotel capacity of 350 rooms.
What sort of office space can you provide? And that includes appropriate premises "with the necessary logistics," meeting rooms and off-site archiving, high-performing telecommunication and data storage networks. EMA holds more than 500 meetings and 4000 teleconferences a year, and its current 27,000 m² of office space includes 6,000m² of meeting rooms with internet 4G connection. It has an archive room of 30m² and on-floor filing rooms totalling another 30m². It hosts its own telecommunication network and data storage, with off-site backup. And it has an off-site archive of 600m², 9m high, where 34,000 boxes are stored.
And is your site safe? Claims will be verified. There will be a check on "appropriate physical and IT security standards". And given the burnt fingers that either the EU or the UK will be left with when the EMA drops 30 years early out of its lease on the London site, the conditions unsurprisingly include plenty of detail on "the financial terms… in particular if the member state would pay the rent for a given period of time or indefinitely", as well as terms concerning maintenance of the building, and any special offers on provision of utilities and internet.
How about schools? At present three-quarters of the EMA's staff have school-age kids, and that will require availability of multi-lingual, European-oriented schooling. And can you offer jobs and social security coverage to the partners that more than half the staff will bring with them? "Appropriate access to the labor market, social security and medical care for both children and spouses", as well as job opportunities.
Can you keep the show on the road? "Business continuity" is another top criterion, and covers the ability for the EMA "to maintain and attract highly qualified staff from the relevant sectors." This is all the more important since there will be gaps to fill: there is little likelihood that all the agency's current staff will choose to relocate.
Still interested? Then get your offer in by July 31st – and if you've already put an offer in, then confirm it and update to match these criteria, the EU urges. To ensure transparency, all offers received by then will be published on the website of the European Council, along with a short video if anyone wants to add one. The Commission will make an initial assessment and pass that on to the Secretary General of the Council by mid-September. A meeting of EU ambassadors in early October will then hear briefly from the Commission and from candidate countries, and the plan is for a decision to be reached at a meeting of deputy prime ministers later in October, using a complex secret voting procedure designed to ensure a result.
There are some additional complicating criteria. What the EU refers to as 'geographical spread' – which means that if your country already has an agency, its chances are not so high as a country without any. And as far as possible, the countries that joined the EU since 2004 (and which have very few agencies between them) will enjoy some preference. But the assurance that the agency can be set up on site and take up its functions at the date of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the Union remains paramount.
A tough race. But at least the 27 member countries can be confident that the race is just between themselves. Signing off on the conditions for bids, EU President Donald Tusk and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker squash any last UK hopes of keeping the agency in London: "It is necessary to move the United Kingdom-based agencies to other locations within the Union's territory", they say unambiguously.
Peter O’Donnell is a freelance journalist who specializes in European health affairs and is based in Brussels, Belgium.