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Amsterdam to host EU drug agency in lucky-dip thriller

Amsterdam has won the right to host the EU’s EMA drug agency when it leaves London following Brexit after the Dutch city tied with Milan in a vote that was then decided by the drawing of lots, diplomatic sources say.

The Council of the European Union on Monday confirmed the choice of Amsterdam to host the European Medicines Agency (EMA) but gave no official account of the three rounds of vote which ended with disappointment for the Italian favorite in a lucky dip.

The outcome was welcomed by European pharmaceuticals bodies. The EMA had warned that many of its staff might quit, possibly disrupting healthcare in Europe, if governments had chosen a less attractive host city, notably in the ex-communist east.

Eastern governments were left empty-handed when a first round of voting among eight candidates to host the European Banking Authority (EBA) snubbed Warsaw and Prague. Paris, Frankfurt and Dublin went through to the second round, diplomats said, with Paris only slightly ahead of the other two.

Sources familiar with the meeting of national ministers from the 27 EU states other than Britain said Milan had been just two votes short of outright victory in a second round of voting for the EMA, securing 12 votes to 9 for Amsterdam and 5 for Copenhagen, which was knocked out.

But the abstention of one country — one diplomat said it was Slovakia, whose capital Bratislava was pipped into fourth place in the first round — saw a 13-13 result in the third-round runoff. The Estonian minister chairing the meeting had to step in under the rules to draw lots to decide the winner — an outcome veteran diplomats said they believed was unprecedented.

In all, 19 cities had bid for the prestige and economic boost that the arrival of the EMA’s 900 staff and many offices for international pharmaceuticals companies will bring. Bratislava, the leading contender in ex-communist Eastern Europe, came in fourth in the first round of voting.

Ministers went on to vote for one of eight cities hoping to host the smaller EBA, which sets rules used by the European Central Bank to carry out stress tests of the banking sector in the bloc.

Eastern governments had emphasized that there were relatively few EU agencies located in the countries which joined the bloc only after the Cold War. But their hopes were dashed.

Estonia’s EU minister Matti Maasikas, who was chairing the voting session, called the contest “a sad reminder of the concrete consequences of Brexit.” Britain is due to leave the EU in March 2019.

Despite fierce competition, the 27 EU states were keen to avoid any protracted and bruising dispute over the matter as they see preserving unity as essential in facing Brexit, the biggest setback in the post-World War II history of European integration.

“Whatever the outcome, the real winner of today’s vote is EU27. Organized and getting ready for Brexit,” EU summit chair Donald Tusk tweeted ahead of the votes.

(Source: Reuters)

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