EU declines to rank rival bids for agencies leaving Britain over Brexit

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission has shied away from ranking which cities should host Europe’s drugs regulator and banking authority after Brexit, saying the decision is up to the 27 member states which will remain.

President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker listens at a news conference during the European Union Tallinn Digital Summit in Tallinn, Estonia, September 29, 2017. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

The EU executive said its assessment, published on Saturday, was wholly based on the information provided by governments in their bidding war to host the two agencies, which will be forced to relocate from Britain when it leaves the bloc.

“It (the assessment) respects the member states’ decision that the criteria should be unweighted and does not provide a ranking or shortlist of any kind,” the Commission said in a statement.

Nineteen member states have bid to host the European Medical Agency (EMA) and eight want the European Banking Authority (EBA).

The final say on where to move the agencies rests with EU leaders who will try to reach a deal at their next summit in three weeks’ time, with a final decisions a month later.

Candidate cities will be appraised based on their ability to have an office ready in time, their accessibility, the quality of schools, healthcare and jobs for the families of staff, and how disruptive the move would be.

In their eagerness to host the agencies, some governments have offered tax breaks or rent-free headquarters for the EU institutions - a big break for the bloc’s budget.

However, the EU’s need to ensure business continuity could clash with another EU ambition - spreading the bloc’s agencies more evenly across Europe and giving newer, eastern member states a chance to catch up.

The EMA on Tuesday warned that it could lose more than 70 percent of its staff, making it unable to function, if politicians pick an unpopular base for the London-based agency once Britain leaves the European Union.

Amsterdam, Barcelona or Vienna were the top three choices of staff, according to a survey of around 900 of its workers. The Netherlands, Spain and Austria all already host one or more EU agencies.

The EMA has said it would take at least three years to recover fully from the disruption to its operations. It sees retaining staff as key to maintaining essential services such as new drug approval and monitoring side effects.

(This version of the story corrects paragraph 10 to show that all three countries, not cities, host EU agencies)

Reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel; Editing by Andrew Bolton