Here’s something officials from the Spanish and Catalan governments can agree on: When the European Medicines Agency leaves London because of Brexit, its new home should be Barcelona.
Spanish Health Minister Dolors Montserrat and Catalan Health Minister Toní Comín sat just two seats apart during a presentation in Brussels on Wednesday evening promoting Barcelona’s bid to snag the EU drug regulator.
“I come to defend this candidacy, including in these circumstances with the Spanish government: That’s how strong our commitment is to this candidacy,” Comín told journalists in Brussels on Wednesday afternoon before heading to the event organized by the Spanish government. Thursday is a second Spanish government deadline for Catalan President Carles Puigdemont to clarify whether he has declared Catalonia’s independence from Spain.
The EMA, with its nearly 900 employees and related research and pharma industry ecosystem, is viewed as one of the biggest spoils of Brexit: Some 19 countries are vying to become its new host. Barcelona emerged as a top contender and a favorite among EMA employees. But uncertainty created by Catalonia’s independence referendum led to chatter among other contenders that the city was hardly a suitable choice.
On Wednesday in Brussels, Spanish and Catalan officials pushed back strongly against that perception.
Montserrat, who is Catalan, said Barcelona is the best city to host the agency. Barcelona has the building, the business plan for the transition, an office to support EMA employees who move and easy connectivity to the rest of Europe, she said.
Supporters of Catalan independence scribbled graffiti on Dolors Montserrat’s house on different occasions, calling her a fascist and asking for the release of “political prisoners” | Courtesy of Dolors Montserrat
“We proposed Barcelona because it’s a winner candidacy,” she said.
That’s as far as the agreement between her and her Catalan counterpart goes.
Comín said moving the EMA to Barcelona would work even if the region becomes a country of its own.
“Our project is to build a republic and we always wanted this republic to be part of Europe. Our project is part of the EU, and we want the EMA to be in Barcelona, which would be part of the EU,” Comín said.
He rebuffed suggestions from journalists that this was an unrealistic vision given that the EU would not automatically accept Catalonia as a new EU member country should it split from Spain.“I don’t see a lack of realism in the plan I exposed — negotiation with the Spanish government should allow us to incorporate Catalonia into the EU,” he said.
The Catalan republic would be not only an ally of Spain, but a brotherly neighbor, he said. Negotiations with the Spanish government and the EU to allow an independent Catalonia to be part of the bloc could take place after November 2o, he said, the daythe Council of the EU will vote on the new location of the EMA.
But Montserrat insisted that her native Catalonia will always be part of Spain. Earlier Wednesday morning in an interview with POLITICO, she said the current crisis in the region was the result of populists defying the rule of law.
“Their project is based on a lie, on manipulation,” the Spanish health minister said, accusing the leaders of the current Catalan government of going against people who think differently than them.
At Barcelona’s bid presentation Wednesday evening, speakers from local authorities of Barcelona and local industry focused on what the city can offer as a hub for biomedical research and its seamless connections to the rest of Europe.
But the presenters were hard-pressed not to acknowledge the ongoing Catalonian conflict briefly.
Gonzalo Rodés, president of the nonprofit association Barcelona Global, said he is concerned about what’s happening in Catalonia. “We are at the point where politicians need to listen to the will of the people,” he said.
Montserrat and Comín also took the floor to boast of Barcelona’s allure for the EMA. No one took questions from the many journalists and diplomats who packed the conference room of the Spanish Permanent Representation.
Earlier in the day, Monserrat shared photos she said showed how protesters supporting the Catalan government scribbled graffiti on the walls of her garage and her father’s car to intimidate her.
“They are calling me a killer and a fascist, when they are the fascists, because they are putting pressure on me in my own home, in my own town of some 10,000 people,” said Montserrat, who still lives in Catalonia.