terça-feira, 1 de agosto de 2017
Portuguese politics cripples EU agency bid
Portuguese politics cripples EU agency bid
Ahead of an election, Socialist government looks to mollify independent mayor in Porto by dropping Lisbon as candidate for EMA.
By PAUL AMES 7/28/17, 6:45 AM CET Updated 7/31/17, 9:50 PM CET
LISBON — The Portuguese government defended its decision to make a last-minute switch from Lisbon to Porto as its choice as the new host of the European Medicines Agency.
For months, Lisbon was the country’s nominee to take the agency, which must leave London after Brexit. But an outcry from the authorities in Porto led Portugal to make an 11th-hour shift in its proposal: The government dropped Lisbon barely two weeks ahead of the July 31 application deadline and announced the northern city would be the country’s candidate instead.
Until then, Portugal had pushed its capital city hard, with some success: Lisbon was the preferred choice of EMA staff forced to move out of London because of Brexit, ahead of rivals such as Copenhagen, Milan and Bucharest, according to local media reports. Colorful government pamphlets and brochures boasted that “Lisbon welcomes the EMA.”
Portugal’s health minister vigorously defended the government’s decision to ditch Lisbon’s candidacy in favor of Porto. Health Minister Adalberto Campos Fernandes denied claims that the Socialist government sacrificed Portugal’s best hope of winning the 890-staff agency — and associated jobs, hotel revenue and related economic boost — to mollify Porto’s independent mayor Rui Moreira, quell disquiet among Socialist lawmakers from the north, and win northern votes when the country goes to the polls for municipal elections on October 1.
“For every one of EMA’s criteria, Lisbon was the best match … it was a winning bid” — Teresa Leal Coelho, candidate for Lisbon mayor
“The political position has nothing to do with the municipal elections, and there was no pressure from the mayor of Porto or anybody else,” Campos Fernandes said. “This was a political decision with a strategic nature … a cool-headed and rational process.”
Campos Fernandes said the move was intended to boost decentralization across Europe.
“This is a challenge for Europe,” Campos Fernandes said in an interview. “Placing an agency as important as EMA in a city like Porto would have a strategic impact not only for Portugal but for Europe,” he said. “It would signal that policies are more favorable toward territorial cohesion, to cohesion among cities, to more balanced and more sustainable development.”
Yet in June, Prime Minister António Costa wrote to Moreira arguing Lisbon was the best choice due to the proximity of Portugal’s national medicines agency, INFARMED, and the presence of two existing European agencies in the capital. Having all three agencies would justify the opening of a European school in Lisbon, Costa said.
The government also said Lisbon’s air connections and wide range of hotels made it a natural choice for the relocation. Parliament even declared Lisbon’s candidacy to be in the “national interest” and on May 11 approved the nomination with a unanimous vote in favor.
Porto politicians were not happy. Moreira demanded a rethink, adding the battle for the EMA to recent high-profile conflicts with Lisbon over the hosting of next year’s Eurovision Song Contest and routes of the national airline TAP that, he claims, neglect his city’s expanding airport.
“This is a centralist argument that we have to combat,” he told the Porto city council.
The pressure paid off.
According to the new government line, Porto and Lisbon share many of the factors that make Portugal an attractive destination for the agency: a balmy climate, safe environment, affordable housing, high quality of life and existing international schools.
In addition, Campos Fernandes points out the country’s new EMA host candidate is already home to Portugal’s leading pharmaceutical company BIAL and Health Cluster Portugal — which groups over 170 entities including R&D institutions, universities, hospitals and health-related companies.
“Employment prospects for partners [of EMA staff] are also very important, and this is an area where there are many possibilities, not only in research and development, and education, but also in industry, linked to health,” he said.
Moreira was delighted, writing to Costa to applaud a policy reversal he acclaimed as “an auspicious foretaste of a new way of governing Portugal” that would overcome the centralism that is “at least partly responsible for Portugal’s structural backwardness.”
But placating Moreira is a sign that Portugal’s priorities are out of order, one drug industry representative said.
“Obviously the decision to change from Lisbon to Porto could be construed as a decision made with a domestic agenda in mind,” said Brian Cleary, chief marketing officer at pharma consultancy Acorn Regulatory in Ireland. “On the surface, this might appear to casual observers as disorganization, but we must not underestimate the role that politics has to play in every layer of the EMA decision. This strikes me as a move to assuage Porto rather than a tactical move. Porto has not suddenly developed a considerably enhanced infrastructure.”
But Cleary added that he never believed the Portuguese had a strong chance of winning the agency, so the late-stage shift may not matter in the long run.
Lisbon politicians are plenty miffed, whatever the agency’s chances are of ultimately ending up in Portugal.
“For every one of EMA’s criteria, Lisbon was the best match … it was a winning bid,” bemoaned Teresa Leal Coelho, candidate for Lisbon mayor from the opposition Social Democratic Party.
“The process wasn’t particularly well handled by the government,” Lisbon’s Socialist mayor, Fernando Medina, said.
“Porto has good conditions to ensure a seamless transition. It will be easy” — Health Minister Adalberto Campos Fernandes
Campos Fernandes insists there are several possible locations for the agency in Porto that would meet requirements for a transition without any break in the EMA’s work. They include a former bank headquarters in the center of town and more “integrated campus” options. A university campus to the north of the city has been mentioned as another possible location for the EMA.
“We’ve got many options for the location that would meet the EMA’s main concern for continuity,” the minister said. “Porto has good conditions to ensure a seamless transition. It will be easy. I’d say that from one week to another that EMA can carry on its work … without any type of upset.”
The budget for the bid has not yet been fixed, Campos Fernandes said, but media reports say €90,000 has been earmarked for communications.
The minister said the amount already spent promoting the dropped Lisbon bid — including brochures and a website — was “marginal” and much of it could be recouped by adapting material for Porto’s candidacy.
Helen Collis contributed reporting from London.