By Gabriela Baczynska
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Amsterdam won the right to host the EU's drug agency when it leaves London after Brexit after tying with Milan in a vote on Monday that was then decided by the drawing of lots, diplomatic sources said.
The Council of the European Union confirmed the choice of Amsterdam to host the European Medicines Agency (EMA) but gave no official account of the three rounds of vote which ended with disappointment for the Italian favourite in a lucky dip.
The outcome was welcomed by European pharmaceuticals bodies. The EMA had warned that many of its staff might quit, possibly disrupting healthcare in Europe, if governments had chosen a less attractive host city, notably in the ex-communist east.
Sources familiar with the meeting of national ministers from the 27 EU states other than Britain said Milan was two votes short of outright victory in a second round, securing 12 votes to 9 for Amsterdam and 5 for Copenhagen, which was knocked out.
But the abstention of one country had raised the possibility of a tie and a 13-13 result in the third-round runoff meant the Estonian minister chairing the meeting had to step in under the rules to draw lots to decide the winner.
In all, 19 cities had bid for the prestige and economic boost that the arrival of the EMA's 900 staff and many offices for international pharmaceuticals companies will bring. Slovak capital Bratislava, the leading contender in ex-communist eastern Europe, came in fourth in the first round of voting.
Ministers went on to vote for one of eight cities hoping to host the smaller European Banking Authority (EBA), which sets rules used by the European Central Bank to carry out stress tests of the banking sector in the bloc.
Success for a wealthy Western state in securing the EMA could bolster the chances of Czech capital Prague in winning the EBA, diplomats said. Along with Warsaw, it has emphasised that there are relatively few EU agencies located in the countries which joined the bloc only after the Cold War.
Estonia's EU minister Matti Maasikas, who was chairing the voting session, called the contest "a sad reminder of the concrete consequences of Brexit". Britain is due to leave the EU in March 2019.
Despite fierce competition, the 27 EU states - minus Britain - are keen to avoid any protracted and bruising dispute over the matter as they see preserving unity as essential in facing Brexit, the biggest setback in the post-World War Two history of European integration.
"Whatever the outcome, the real winner of today's vote is EU27. Organised and getting ready for Brexit," EU summit chair Donald Tusk tweeted ahead of the vote.
(Additional reporting by Philip Blenkinsop, Francesco Guarascio and Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)