Spoils of Brexit: EU cities race to get EU agencies from UK

BRUSSELS — It's a prestigious side effect of Brexit: Two institutions hosted by Britain have to move out when it leaves the European Union and just about every other nation in the bloc wants them.

The competition to relocate the European Medicines Agency and the European Banking Authority hits the home stretch this week with many EU nations still eager to claim one of the organizations, which will bring in top talent, money to the local economy and prestige to the nation.

Eight European cities are seeking to host the banking authority and 19 want to be the home of the medicines agency. Some cities — like Brussels, Warsaw, Vienna and Dublin — are making pitches for both agencies to increase their chances of landing one. No city will get both.

"We have a good chance to go further," Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said Tuesday after he presented Belgium's candidacy for both agencies.

The European Commission already published a non-binding assessment last weekend on the candidate cities and a final decision is set for mid-November at a meeting of EU nations in Brussels.

The EMA is responsible for the scientific evaluation, supervision and safety monitoring of medicines in the EU. It has around 890 staff and hosts more than 500 scientific meetings every year, attracting about 36,000 experts.

The EBA, which has around 180 staff, monitors the regulation and supervision of Europe's banking sector.

The EU cities have been offering lavish benefits to capture such prizes: Frankfurt is offering space in the Westhafen Tower, a new circular skyscraper, for the banking agency, while Prague, the Czech capital, is offering to pay the banking agency's rent for five years.

Milan wants to host the medicines agency in a 31-story skyscraper, the iconic Pirelli building, while Athens has offered to put it in the Keranis Building — a former cigarette factory.

Belgium is bidding for both agencies — but it already hosts the headquarters of the EU Commission, the EU Council, the defense agency and co-hosts the EU Parliament, so any more agencies would further centralize EU business in one place.

One argument for seeking agency headquarters in different cities is to give the EU deeper roots all over the vast bloc that will still have some 446 million citizens after Britain leaves in March 2019.

Locating an agency in Bulgaria, Croatia or Romania would spread the EU further into the Balkans, while relocating a big important agency to Brussels would further tilt the EU's weight toward its founding member states.

Reynders, of course, lauded the fact of clustering, calling the proposed site in Brussels "such a beautiful location, so close to the European institutions, a location in the center of Europe."

Other candidates like Helsinki have noted their proven track records of already hosting one EU institution.

"If hosted by the same city, the two agencies could create considerable synergies," Finnish Health Minister Pirkko Mattila said.

To keep it from turning into a political free-for-all, the European Commission published a list of requirements for the hosts: they must have good transport access, available office space and educational and employment opportunities for the families of staff, among other criteria.

The medicine agency has also noted the challenges of making sure that it would recover from the burden of relocation as soon as possible — and without losing too many of its staff. It said that moving to some EU cities, which it did not name, would cause "permanent damage to the system," possibly from a loss of talented staff who decide not to make the move.

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Lorne Cook contributed.

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