EUROPEUM Institute for European Policy

On 20th of November, The European Council announced the new locations of the two European agencies that are going to be leaving London as a consequence of Brexit. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) will head to Amsterdam while the European Bank Authority (EBA) will head to Paris. Several EU member states tried to become a new host of one of the agencies. There are at least three good reasons for that; the agencies bring new working positions, thus boosting employment, they serve as a focal point for their respective industries, and they confer certain prestige.

To be precise, 19 cities competed for the EMA and 8 did so for the EBA. The voting system choosing their future host cities was quite complex, consisting out of three rounds in which each of the 27 EU member states voted. Neither Bratislava, who competed for the EMA, nor Prague’s bid for the EBA, succeeded. Both were visibly disappointed. So what stands behind their failure?

In the case of Slovakia, we may argue that it should not even act surprised for not being trusted in an allocation of such an important organization as the European Medical Agency is, as pretty much everyone in Slovakia is well aware about the wide-spread and deeply rooted presence of corruption and nepotism in its public health service sphere.

Even though lately Slovakia seems to be the most promising partner for the western EU countries out of the entire Visegrad group, it still does not evoke enough trust. Other European Union member states simply do not see Slovakia as a suitable country from a European values-perspective.

Case in point, we can mention an affair of controversial Eurofunds´ distribution under the Slovak Ministry of Education from the last August when almost 600 millions of euros destined to be used on scientific research were divided among various projects by people who did not have scientific expertise in areas of those projects.

The Slovak Minister of Health, Tomáš Drucker, could not hide his disappointment of Slovakia finishing on the fourth place. He claimed that Bratislava was not given a possibility to host its first European agency even though these should be fairly distributed thorough the Union. He even admitted that after Bratislava was eliminated, he abstained from voting in the second and third rounds, rigidly and relentlessly defending his geographic criterion for agencies redistribution. This infantile behaviour definitely does not improve Slovak image.

However, it is important to understand that an arrival of such agency comes also with its already-employees and therefore it is essential that their future host is a country where these people themselves want to live. In the case of Slovakia, the disadvantages ranged from insufficient infrastructure to disregard of homosexual marriage under law.

In fact, according to the survey that EMA conducted on its employees, 70 % or more of them would rather quit their job than to move with EMA to Bratislava. Sadly, neither Slovakia nor the Czech Republic are generally a good place to welcome a multicultural society that would come hand in hand with the agencies. From the perspective of the employees of these agencies, it is credible to believe that the rejection of Union´s quota system for redistribution of refugees is a move that will be long remembered in the EU (even though Slovakia shrewdly accepted a few of them in order to avoid fines, part of these people rather returned home after a few months). Moreover, even the “smaller” actions such as Slovak Prime Minister Fico´s comments in 2015 about Slovak security agencies monitoring every one Muslim in the country as a counter-terrorism measure, as well as negative reactions of Czech citizens on this month´s controversial campaign of Člověk v tísni[1], are not showing a desirable path of these two societies.

EMA issued its own evaluation of countries´ proposals. The technical assessment showed that Bratislava had as good score as the three cities that got ahead of it into the second round of voting. The important differences showed under the other criteria. Amsterdam, Milan and Copenhagen got generally good ratings, while Bratislava lagged behind them with a low flight connectivity (relying rather on foreign airports in Vienna and Budapest than its own), too great distance of the new EMA office from a possibility of high quality accommodation in the city centre, lack of access to medical care and social security for EMA employees´ families, or with a generally intolerant socio-cultural environment (e.g. because of homosexual marriages not being protected under national law).

As was already mentioned, Prague was one of the eight cities competing for the European Banking Agency. Paris was the chosen one in the end. Once again, similar conditions were observed in the proposals and their evaluation: transport connections, quality accommodation, multilingual educational facilities, access to social security and healthcare, and whether the relocation can be made on time.

Prague was assuring EBA in its proposal that it can provide all of these. The Czech Republic also used the argument about the principle of geographical balance. Moreover, it supported its candidature with its five-year long experience with hosting European Global Navigation Satellite Systems Agency. So why was it not successful?

The EBA relocation individual assessment of the Prague candidature clearly stated that the availability of accommodation for the personnel and also the office building were meeting their demands. However, Czech Republic´s offer missed a few other things, namely more detailed information about multilingual educational facilities (it provided no information on their actual number or linguistic offer, or concrete university study programmes), or information on access to social security and medical care for EBA employees´ families. Moreover, the business continuity was not guaranteed, as Prague did not provide information on the likelihood for EBA to attract qualified staff. Lastly, the Czech proposal referred to the fact that the Czech Republic is not part of the Eurozone but expressed a will to join it in the future. However, the actual political will to join the Eurozone seemingly remains very low amongst Czech political leadership. Since its accession to the EU in 2004, the Czech Republic has continuously opposed accession into the Eurozone. According to the Barometer from the May 2017, as many as 70% of Czech citizens is opposing introduction of the euro.

Commenting the results of the vote, the Czech State Secretary for European Affairs, Aleš Chmelař, pointed out that Prague and Bratislava can be satisfied with the fact that both of them almost got into the second round of voting, as they got the closest out of other new member states. He considers it to be a good result.

Indeed, this kind of failure of not becoming hosts to one of these European agencies should not offend us. Exactly the opposite, Bratislava and Prague should take this as an impulse for an inner reflection and evaluation of how could they become trustworthy partners for their EU counterparts.

Lamenting about being overlooked or underrated is a behaviour suitable rather for a child on a playground. It is true that location of agencies should consider or even give a little privilege to those member states that do not host one of them yet, but we cannot expect such criterion to overshadow other and more important ones. First, there needs to be a welcoming and open environment established; then we can expect to be attractive for such important institutions and its employees. Bratislava and Prague were not granted a possibility to become medical and financial centres of Europe because they have a potential to improve and rise, before they can earn it rightfully in the future – just like cities such as Copenhagen. Thus, Aleš Chmelař’s assessment is the correct one.

Miroslava Pěčková

 

[1] It displayed several billboards in three Czech cities with writings in Arabic or similar looking language, later explaining that they represented thank you notes from people who got help from Czechs participating in this non-profit organisation.

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