'We have fish & chips': EU cities bid for Brexit agencies

The battle for the spoils of Brexit began Tuesday as 23 European cities launched their bids to host two London-based EU regulatory agencies that will be forced to leave the British capital. Slick videos and glossy brochures abounded as the EU announced that 19 cities were candidates to be the new home of the European Medicines Agency (EMA), and eight to host the European Banking Authority (EBA). The bids for the agencies -- which together employ more than 1,000 people and promise to bring both money and prestige to the new host cities -- will be assessed by the European Commission before EU states make a final decision in November. The deadline for applications was Monday at midnight for a race that, if it gets heated, risks undermining the European Union's unity at a time when it is trying to present a common front in divorce negotiations with Britain. "We will now proceed in assessing all offers in an objective manner," said European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva. The cities seen as leading the race for the EMA are Amsterdam, Barcelona and Lille in France, with Athens, Bonn, Bratislava, Brussels, Bucharest, Copenhagen, Dublin, Helsinki, Milan, Porto, Sofia, Stockholm, Malta, Vienna, Warsaw and Zagreb also in contention. The agency, which employs 900 pharmaceutical experts, biologists and doctors from every corner of Europe, evaluates medicines throughout the bloc. The German financial hub of Frankfurt is the frontrunner for the EBA, followed by Paris and Luxembourg and Prague, while Brussels, Dublin, Vienna and Warsaw have also bid. The EBA, with 159 staff, is perhaps best known for its regular stress tests on the EU's financial sector in the wake of the global financial crisis. - Europeans not 'vultures' - Six countries -- Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland and Poland -- have made bids for both agencies. Hungary, Cyprus, Slovenia and the three Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have not bid for any. Britain will no longer be able to host the agencies as it is set to leave the EU in March 2019 following its shock Brexit referendum vote last year. "The two agencies will need to be relocated in the context of the UK's withdrawal from the EU. The future locations need to be decided by common agreement of the EU27 member states," the European Council said in a statement. The European Commission's assessment will consider criteria such as accessibility for current employees, work opportunities for their spouses and schools for their children. It will also look at whether a country already hosts other EU agencies to ensure they are not monopolised. European officials insisted that they were not trying to suck all business away from Britain, which will inevitably retain close trading links with the huge EU market on its border. "Luxembourg has not positioned itself as vultures circling round the Tower of London waiting for all those jobs to fly out our way," Luxembourg's ambassador George Friden told reporters in Brussels. "The Luxembourg financial centre has had what we view as a long and fruitful relationship with the City of London and we very much wish for that to continue." - 'Stylish queen' - The cities' individual bids were all posted on the EU's website, with many trying to outdo each other as they sought to position themselves as the natural choice. "We also have a very stylish queen, and enjoy fish and chips," said a video for Amsterdam's bid, stressing the continuity with two famed parts of British life. Malta and Warsaw meanwhile quoted testimony from happy expatriates, while the Danish and Irish prime ministers acted as salesmen for their respective cities. The choice of new host cities will be made via a complicated points system that officials have compared to the Eurovision song contest. After the commission assessment is published on September 30, European affairs ministers will then vote on the final choice at a meeting on November 20. Each country will have six voting points -- three for its first preference, two points for the second and one for the third. If any one gets the full three points from 14 or more members then it automatically wins -- otherwise there is a second round for the top three candidate cities, and if necessary a third and final knock-out between the last two cities.