Crisis in Catalonia

Catalan crisis puts paid to Barcelona bid to host EU medicines agency

Political uncertainty caused by secession drive torpedoes city’s chances of hosting drug-approval center

Torre Agbar in Barcelona could have hosted the European Medicines Agency.
Torre Agbar in Barcelona could have hosted the European Medicines Agency.Massimiliano Minocri

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Amsterdam will be the new home of the coveted European Medicines Agency (EMA) and its 900 employees, following a tight vote held on Monday in the Belgian capital.

Barcelona was left out of the race in the first round of voting. The Spanish government blamed the Catalan secessionist drive for the resounding defeat, while former Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont – who fled to Belgium early this month to avoid legal action by the Spanish courts – accused Madrid of ruining Barcelona’s chances.

Political uncertainty has been clearly detrimental to Barcelona

A high-ranking European official

“Political uncertainty has been clearly detrimental to Barcelona,” confirmed a high-ranking European official on Monday evening.

Spain joined the race for the EMA half a year ago, when it presented the Catalan capital as an ideal destination for the agency in charge of drug approval across the European Union (EU). The European agency is currently headquartered in London, but will change addresses due to Brexit.

Even back then, competing cities underscored that Barcelona’s chances, while very good in terms of technical criteria, would be seriously hampered by the independence drive.

The blame game

Madrid blamed the defeat on “the direct effects of the independence process.”

“This may be one of the biggest direct hits, another direct hit, caused by the independence drive in Catalonia,” said the Spanish health minister, Dolors Montserrat. Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis described the setback as “the latest victim of the [independence] process,” and said he hoped that “this is the last defeat that it causes.”

“A situation in which 2,500 businesses are leaving Catalonia is not the best situation to bid for a great agency like this one,” added Jorge Toledo, the Spanish secretary of state for the EU.

Meanwhile, Catalan secessionists posited their own theory for Barcelona’s poor performance.

Toni Comín, a former member of Puigdemont’s ousted government, said that everything changed after October 1 – when regional authorities held an illegal referendum with no guarantees and used it as a basis for their declaration of independence.

“When the Generalitat [the Catalan government] was removed, Barcelona lost ground. It fell under the batons of [interior] Minister Zoido and the Spanish government,” he said, alluding to police violence on the day of the referendum.

“Through violence, democratic regression and [Article] 155 [of the Constitution], the state has condemned [the Barcelona bid],” claimed Puigdemont on social media, making reference to the clause used by the central government to take control of Catalonia’s regional powers in the wake of the independence declaration that was voted through the Catalan parliament.

Thirteen votes

Barcelona dropped out of the race in the first round of voting, where it only attracted 13 votes compared with 25 for Amsterdam, 20 for Milan and 20 for Copenhagen. Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, earned 15 votes.

Amsterdam and Milan were tied in the decisive round, and the Dutch city finally won the contest in a random draw of lots that was simultaneously reminiscent of the Eurovision song competition, of the Vatican conclaves to elect new popes, and of county fair raffles.

Barcelona dropped out of the race in the first round of voting, where it only attracted 13 votes compared with 25 for Amsterdam

Barcelona had been one of the strongest contenders on the technical front, and had a formidable building to offer as a new headquarters for EMA: the Agbar tower, a city landmark. Even EMA employees had expressed their own approval of this destination. But in Brussels, decisions of this caliber are never purely technical.

This is the latest setback for Spain in Europe. During Mariano Rajoy’s first term in office, Spain lost a seat on the board of the European Central Bank, and soon thereafter, Economy Minister Luis de Guindos lost the presidency of the Eurogroup to a Dutchman, Jeroen Dijsselbloem.

English version by Susana Urra.

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