May 10, 2017 / 1:40 PM / 2 months ago

After Macron win, EU lawmakers eye swap plan to close Strasbourg seat

The headquarters of the European Medicines Agency (EMA), is seen in London, Britain, April 25, 2017.Hannah McKay

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Plans to move the European Union's London-based medicines regulator to Strasbourg and push through a long-held project to close the EU parliament's expensive second seat in the French city are gaining traction among legislators, EU officials said.

Lawmakers have been holding discreet talks on such a swap, which they hope would help eliminate French opposition to Strasbourg losing the seat, one official said.

Last week's election win in France of pro-EU President Emmanuel Macron may further help the plan come to fruition.

MEPs convene in Strasbourg for one week every month and in Brussels for the remainder. The monthly upheaval costs the bloc 114 million euros a year, EU auditors say.

Critics have long called for the arrangement to be scrapped, but it has stayed in place largely because France would have vetoed any attempt to make the required amendment to the EU treaty.

However, since Britain voted to leave the EU, lawmakers from several groupings in the parliament have come to support the idea of a swap, a parliament official said.

A text urging to use the "excellent opportunity" of the Brexit-driven transfer of EU agencies from London to reach an agreement on a single seat of the EU parliament in Brussels was backed in April by 75 percent of EU lawmakers.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA), one of the biggest EU bodies, will have to be moved from London after Britain leaves the EU.

London also hosts the European Banking Authority, which Germany's Frankfurt is seen as likely to win over competitors Paris, Dublin, Amsterdam and other European cities.

Outgoing French President Francois Hollande chose Lille as the French candidate city to host the EU drugs regulator. Macron would have to reverse such a choice, a potentially risky move as France prepares for legislative elections in June.

Other EU countries would also have to approve EMA's transfer to France, giving up their own ambitions. Around 40 European cities, from nearly all 27 remaining EU states, have put forward their candidacy to host EMA, with Milan and Vienna seen as the frontrunners.

Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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