EU executive rebuffs Italy's push to host drugs regulator

By Gabriela Baczynska and Philip Pullella

BRUSSELS/ROME (Reuters) - The European Union executive on Wednesday brushed off a renewed Italian bid to host the bloc's drug agency after Brexit, saying calls to give the body to Milan were election campaigning.

Italy wants the bloc's top court, the European Court of Justice, to revoke the EU's decision to move the European Medicines Agency (EMA) from London to Amsterdam after Brexit.

Italy will hold parliamentary elections on March 4 and Ialian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said separately on Wednesday he realized the push on EMA would be an uphill battle.

"We have to do it," Gentiloni told Italian television. "It won't be easy."

EMA, which employs around 900 people and is a key element in the continent's healthcare industry, will leave its current home in London as Britain leaves the bloc in March, 2019.

Milan lost its bid for the authority last November, when a tied vote among 27 EU ministers forced the winner to be chosen by drawing lots from a fishbowl.

The European Court of Justice on Wednesday confirmed Italy and Milan had logged two legal cases at the Luxembourg-based tribunal to annul the November decision.

The EU's chief health official at the Brussels-based executive European Commission poured cold water on Italy's EMA campaign, saying it was "very close to the Italian election."

"Sorry but me personally, I think the whole Commission also is not a part of Italian election debates. It will be a crystal clear answer. The Council decision is done," Vytenis Andriukaitis told a briefing in Brussels.

EMA's head, Italian Guido Rasi, said earlier this week the temporary accommodation Amsterdam was offering before it finishes building a new site to host the agency was "not optimal".

Rome was swift to mount its legal challenge, but the Hague has pointed out that the temporary accommodation has always been part of its bid and was fit to host EMA, while the destination building would be ready on schedule in November, 2019.

"The process leading to the decision was fair and square," said Dutch Minister for Medical Care Bruno Bruins.

(Writing by Gabriela Baczynska, Editing by William Maclean)

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