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Parliament offers Italians one last shot at winning EU drugs regulator


Italian members of the European Parliament have one final card to play in a bid to stop the European Medicines Agency from moving to Amsterdam, rather than Milan.

After Britain’s decision to quit the EU, 19 countries fought for the lucrative prize of becoming the next venue of the London-based drug regulator. In the final round of voting in the Council in November, Italy’s candidate city, Milan, ultimately lost out to Amsterdam in a drawing of lots from a bowl.

Italy is still smarting from that twist of fate and has protested about the Dutch victory because Amsterdam won’t have its new building ready to host the agency from March 2019.

Italian lawmakers in the European Parliament now have an opportunity to fight back, although their chance of success is remote. A draft law on the relocation must pass through the Parliament, and it gives the Italians an opportunity to intervene.

After the Council decided to relocate the EMA to Amsterdam, the European Commission sent a draft regulation to the Parliament to rubber stamp the decision. But that cannot be taken for granted.

“Theoretically, it is possible [to change the location], but I don’t think that will happen” — Carlo Corazza, spokesman for European Parliament President Antonio Tajani

“It’s an ordinary legislative proposal, [so] the European Parliament has the power to change any part of it, including the part which says the new location is Amsterdam,” said Italian S&D MEP Paolo De Castro, who has been involved in the discussions.

Two other Italian lawmakers, Patrizia Toia and Elisabetta Gardini, also have asked the Council whether the relocation procedure should be reopened.

But there would be huge political backlash at any attempt to change the new site of the EMA.

“Theoretically, it is possible [to change the location], but I don’t think that will happen,” said Carlo Corazza, spokesman for the Italian President of the Parliament Antonio Tajani.

Under the procedure for new EU laws, the Commission’s proposal has passed to the Parliament and the Council, which will adopt their own reports and conduct three-way negotiations to agree a final version. Both institutions have the right to make changes before it becomes law.

Tajani in the summer stressed Parliament would ensure transparency in the EMA relocation, even if MEPs had no formal role in picking the new city.

The EMA is an EU agency under the supervision of the Commission. The decision on where to locate any EU agency is typically taken by the Council alone.

No guarantees

The Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee is expected to discuss its report on the file on January 24, according to Czech GUE MEP Kateřina Konečná, a shadow rapporteur. The whole Parliament then must vote on the final position.

De Castro said a change to the Commission’s proposal could be justified by the fact that Dutch facilities won’t be ready by the Brexit date. The Dutch government has confirmed the new building for the agency won’t be finished by March 29, 2019, which it acknowledged in its original bid.

“The Netherlands focuses on ensuring a swift and effective move of this important agency and will not comment on every action entertained by others in that respect,” said Ole Heil, a spokesperson for the Dutch health ministry.

Italian EPP MEP Giovanni La Via is steering the Parliament’s report through the environment committee and said that lawmakers would consider the location. Following his appointment Wednesday as a rapporteur for the draft law, La Via said the procedure was just beginning and that it was too early to say what would happen.

De Castro acknowledged that being able to propose a new host city was no guarantee a change would happen, given the Council and Parliament have equal say in the co-decision procedure. “If the Council said no [to a location change] and the Parliament said yes, I don’t know what will happen. We can lose a lot of time,” he said.

Before it gets there, La Via may face opposition to propose a location change from inside the Parliament itself.

“As far as I am concerned, this is not a political but a technical report,” said Croatian S&D MEP Biljana Borzan, another shadow rapporteur who will work on the draft law with La Via. “The Parliament does not have the power to change the Council’s decision.”

Borzan said the Parliament must expedite the report “so that the relocation process can be conducted as efficiently as possible. That is in the interest of public health protection in the EU.”

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