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EUROPEAN UNION

Sweden submits official bid to take EU agency from London after Brexit

Sweden has formally submitted its official offer to take an important EU agency from London following the UK's departure from the European Union.

Sweden submits official bid to take EU agency from London after Brexit
The European Medicines Agency is currently based in London's Canary Wharf. Photo: Frank Augstein/AP

The Nordic nation has been courting the European Medicines Agency (EMA) for a year now following the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, hoping to take the EU medical watchdog currently headquartered in London’s Canary Wharf and employing around 900 people.

READ ALSO: Stockholm will lobby to take EU agency and 900 jobs from London post-Brexit

Considered a major draw for the pharmaceutical industry, Sweden hopes to host the EMA in capital city Stockholm, which it argues would come with several advantages. One of those is the presence of the Karolinska Institute medical university, meaning the EMA would be offered “a research environment that includes one of the world’s foremost medical universities and the Nobel Assembly as its closest neighbours,” the official offer notes.

The offer also explains that the Swedish Medical Products Agency would increase its staff to assist the EMA if a move took place, and argues that relocating to Stockholm would create “synergy effects” with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), a body already based in the Swedish capital, saving resources.

“The EMA is strategically important for the EU's global competitiveness. We are convinced that Sweden's offer is best able to benefit the EMA and the EU as a whole,” Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said in a statement.

“The EMA is an extremely important agency for health and medical care and patient safety in the European Union. Sweden and Stockholm can provide the seamless transition required,” added Minister for Health and Social Affairs Annika Stranhäll.

In May, Sweden launched a website detailing reasons why the agency should move there, boasting about Stockholm’s public transport and flight connections, the country’s high ability in English, and also lifestyle factors like Stockholm’s nature and the Swedish work-life balance.

READ ALSO: Sweden intensifies push to take EU agency from London after Brexit

Competitors for Sweden’s bid to host the agency include Ireland, Italy, Denmark and Poland. A final decision is due to be made by the Council of the European Union in November. 

ENERGY

How European countries are spending billions on easing energy crisis

European governments are announcing emergency measures on a near-weekly basis to protect households and businesses from the energy crisis stemming from Russia's war in Ukraine.

How European countries are spending billions on easing energy crisis

Hundreds of billions of euros and counting have been shelled out since Russia invaded its pro-EU neighbour in late February.

Governments have gone all out: from capping gas and electricity prices to rescuing struggling energy companies and providing direct aid to households to fill up their cars.

The public spending has continued, even though European Union countries had accumulated mountains of new debt to save their economies during the Covid pandemic in 2020.

But some leaders have taken pride at their use of the public purse to battle this new crisis, which has sent inflation soaring, raised the cost of living and sparked fears of recession.

After announcing €14billion in new measures last week, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi boasted the latest spending put Italy, “among the countries that have spent the most in Europe”.

The Bruegel institute, a Brussels-based think tank that is tracking energy crisis spending by EU governments, ranks Italy as the second-biggest spender in Europe, after Germany.

READ ALSO How EU countries aim to cut energy bills and avoid blackouts this winter

Rome has allocated €59.2billion since September 2021 to shield households and businesses from the rising energy prices, accounting for 3.3 percent of its gross domestic product.

Germany tops the list with €100.2billion, or 2.8 percent of its GDP, as the country was hit hard by its reliance on Russian gas supplies, which have dwindled in suspected retaliation over Western sanctions against Moscow for the war.

On Wednesday, Germany announced the nationalisation of troubled gas giant Uniper.

France, which shielded consumers from gas and electricity price rises early, ranks third with €53.6billion euros allocated so far, representing 2.2 percent of its GDP.

Spending to continue rising
EU countries have now put up €314billion so far since September 2021, according to Bruegel.

“This number is set to increase as energy prices remain elevated,” Simone Tagliapietra, a senior fellow at Bruegel, told AFP.

The energy bills of a typical European family could reach €500 per month early next year, compared to €160 in 2021, according to US investment bank Goldman Sachs.

The measures to help consumers have ranged from a special tax on excess profits in Italy, to the energy price freeze in France, and subsidies public transport in Germany.

But the spending follows a pandemic response that increased public debt, which in the first quarter accounted for 189 percent of Greece’s GDP, 153 percent in Italy, 127 percent in Portugal, 118 percent in Spain and 114 percent in France.

“Initially designed as a temporary response to what was supposed to be a temporary problem, these measures have ballooned and become structural,” Tagliapietra said.

“This is clearly not sustainable from a public finance perspective. It is important that governments make an effort to focus this action on the most vulnerable households and businesses as much as possible.”

Budget reform
The higher spending comes as borrowing costs are rising. The European Central Bank hiked its rate for the first time in more than a decade in July to combat runaway inflation, which has been fuelled by soaring energy prices.

The yield on 10-year French sovereign bonds reached an eight-year high of 2.5 percent on Tuesday, while Germany now pays 1.8 percent interest after boasting a negative rate at the start of the year.

The rate charged to Italy has quadrupled from one percent earlier this year to four percent now, reviving the spectre of the debt crisis that threatened the eurozone a decade ago.

“It is critical to avoid debt crises that could have large destabilising effects and put the EU itself at risk,” the International Monetary Fund warned in a recent blog calling for reforms to budget rules.

The EU has suspended until 2023 rules that limit the public deficit of countries to three percent of GDP and debt to 60 percent.

The European Commission plans to present next month proposals to reform the 27-nation bloc’s budget rules, which have been shattered by the crises.

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