Brussels: European leaders will discuss for the first time at a summit on Saturday the battle to host two London-based EU agencies after Brexit, with a decision expected later this year, officials said.
Over a dozen member states have already thrown their hats into the ring to host the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European Banking Authority (EBA), currently housed in London`s Canary Wharf business district.
EU President Donald Tusk and European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker will bring up the sensitive topic at the summit in Brussels where the 27 remaining EU leaders will adopt Brexit negotiating guidelines, European officials said.
They will tell the leaders on Saturday that the process to find new homes for the agencies begins in June with the announcement of a set of criteria for the relocations, a senior EU official said on condition of anonymity.
EU leaders will then vote on a list of contenders later in the year, with Tusk intending to name the new hosts at a summit in either October or December, another senior EU diplomat said.
At least initially, the EU will push Britain to pay all relocation costs, the diplomat said, amid reports that owed rent in London could reach hundreds of millions of euros.
"The whole issue is a direct consequence of the Brexit decision," the diplomat said.
It is a major acceleration of the process of moving the agencies ahead of Britain`s exit from the EU in March 2019.
Luxembourg in March fired an opening shot, claiming that it had a legal right to win the EBA based on a statute from the 1960s that gives the small duchy first dibs on any EU agency involving the economy.
The EBA is perhaps best known for its regular stress tests on the EU`s financial sector, which have become a vital focus for investors and regulators in the wake of the global financial crisis.
Up for grabs also is the EMA and its London staff of 900, including pharmaceutical experts, biologists and doctors from every corner of Europe.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on Thursday wrote EU officials to defend Barcelona as a host of the EMA.