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For the first time, the EU is using public hearings to decide where to locate an agency

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Lawmakers today held landmark hearings to determine the site of the EU’s new anti-money laundering agency (AMLA) – probing issues from high politics to parking.

There are nine candidates to host – and there are already signs of what lawmakers will take into account as they attempt to whittle that down to one, using an unprecedented decision-making process that sees MEPs given equal status with EU member states.

Lawmakers Euronews talked to suggest connectivity and balance will play a key role in their decision, set to be finalised by 22 February.

Yet candidates’ early pitches showed the remarkable range of issues they’ll need to take into account – from the impact of Russia’s war in Ukraine to mere administrative quibbles.

In his address to MEPs and member states, Rome’s Mayor Roberto Gualtieri vaunted his chosen location’s ample parking, a tax exemption for staff buying furniture, and the joys of Fiumicino, the nearby transport hub which, he noted, has repeatedly won a “best airport in Europe” award.

Gualtieri, a former head of the EU Parliament’s economics committee, capped off his one-hour slot posing for a selfie with its current chair, Irene Tinagli (Italy/Socialists and Democrats).

He seemed unfazed by the grilling he received over whether the building would be ready in time.

AMLA – which will directly supervise dirty-money controls at the bloc’s biggest banks – is set to start work later this year, and staff in Rome would have to use a temporary office until refurbishments are completed the following year.

Proponents say this idea is actually more efficient.

“Nobody has the final building fully operational because nobody knows if they will win – that’s a normal thing,” Gualtieri told Euronews, arguing his solution was the cleanest way to transfer staff as the agency grew.

Austria, in contrast, focused its bid on the advantages of siting in a city regularly voted Europe’s most livable – but MEPs appeared more interested in the country’s track record on dirty money, and whether it was serious about imposing sanctions on Russia.

“We want to get all of the companies out of Russia as quickly as possible; sometimes it’s not that easy,” Austrian finance minister Markus Brunner told Euronews, after being quizzed by Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield (France/Greens) over why Vienna-based Raiffeisen was still making over half its revenues in Russia.

A spokesperson for Raiffeisen Bank International told Euronews it was working to sell or spin off the Russian arm, and in the meantime was significantly decreasing its business in the country.

But withdrawal was complicated by the need for approval by the Russian state, said Brunner, adding that other banks such as Italy’s UniCredit are in a similar situation.

No deal

Vienna is up against some of the EU’s big beasts – with Germany, France and Spain all still to make their pitch, and Lithuania, Latvia, Belgium and Ireland also putting in bids.

But Brunner isn’t worried about a stitch up by larger neighbours.

“I hope it’s not going to be a deal between other member states,” Brunner told Euronews, adding: “We’re not taking part in any deals … we’re just presenting our bid”.

The mammoth hearings, stretching on over twelve hours, represent a first for the bloc, where traditionally the location of agencies has been decided behind closed doors by national officials – sometimes by the drawing of lots.

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The EU’s highest court recently said lawmakers should be given an equal say – and MEPs are keen to flaunt their new role.

“The European Parliament has fought to be decisive,” Juan Fernando López Aguilar (Spain/Socialists and Democrats) told Euronews. “We have actually made it … we are involved in the final decision, that was the substantial point.”

Finding a winner from among nine worthy candidates is “not going to be easy”, he added – but he hopes the final decision, set to be made at a 22 February meeting of national and parliament officials, will prove conclusive.

The two key issues for lawmakers would be connectivity, and territorial balance, López Aguilar said – suggesting the winner could be the candidate that shows the easiest access to staff and schools, or one showing they don’t already house major EU institutions.

Yet while Tinagli promised hearings would be an integral part of the process, there are signs some others aren’t taking the exercise quite so seriously – including in the EU’s Council, which groups the EU’s 27 member states.

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No Council representatives took up the opportunity to quiz Lithuanian and Latvian candidates on their proposals, so their sessions closed early.

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