Merkel says UK offer on EU citizens' rights post-Brexit 'a good start'; EU to decide future of UK-based agencies by Nov

German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks during a media conference at the end of the first day of the two days EU Council meeting in Brussels.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks during a media conference at the end of the first day of the two days EU Council meeting in Brussels.PHOTO: EPA

BRUSSELS (AFP) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave a cautious welcome on Thursday (June 22) to British Prime Minister Theresa May's offer on EU citizens' rights post-Brexit, saying it was a "good start" but more needed to be done.

"This is a good start. But of course there are still many, many other questions," Merkel said after May outlined the plans at a European Union leaders' summit in Brussels.

Merkel cited Britain's exit bill for leaving the EU and the border in Northern Ireland.

"We still have a lot to do here," she told reporters.

Over dinner with her 27 EU counterparts, May promised EU citizens living in Britain that they could stay after Brexit, with permanent rights to healthcare, education, welfare and pensions equivalent to British nationals.

But a clash looms over May's refusal to let the EU's top court oversee the process and any resulting disputes.

Full Brexit negotiations began on Monday, with Britain due to leave the bloc at the end of March 2019.

EU leaders agreed Thursday that the post-Brexit locations of key bank and medical agencies currently based in London would be decided by November, EU president Donald Tusk said.

“Agreed. EU27 will decide by vote in November on relocation of EU agencies currently in UK. Confirms EU27 unity. Reduces Brexit uncertainty,” Tusk tweeted after a summit meeting in Brussels.  

The post-Brexit future of the European Banking Authority (EBA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) is important in itself, given their key regulatory role.  But it is also a matter of money and prestige, with most of the remaining 27 EU member states vying to provide their new home.  

So far the EMA candidate cities are Amsterdam, Copenhagen, the northern French city of Lille, Stockholm and Barcelona.  

The German financial hub of Frankfurt is the frontrunner to host the EBA, while Luxembourg, Paris and Prague are also in the race. Vienna, Dublin and Warsaw have also put themselves forward as candidates for both agencies.  

The EMA, which has been based in London since 1995, employs nearly 900 people and accounted for nearly 30,000 nights of hotel stays by visitors in 2015, according to EU figures.  The EBA, set up in 2011, employs 190 people and accounts for 9,000 hotel nights a year.  

How the choice is made is complicated.  Firstly, candidate cities must formally put themselves forward by July 31, according to a graphic accompanying Tusk’s tweet.  The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, will then evaluate the bids in September, considering 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.  

The EU 27 will then hold a political discussion on the offers in October before a secret vote in November.  Each country will have six voting points – three for its first preference, two points for the second and one for the third.  While they are allowed to vote for themselves they are also expected to take the commission’s assessments into account.  

If any one gets three points from 14 or more members then it automatically wins – otherwise there is a second round for the top three candidate cities but with each country only getting one vote each.  

Should there still be no clear winner, there will be a third and final round between the two final candidates.