It has formidable negotiating skills, at least according to its cheerleaders. It has huge economic clout. And it can impose its will on companies and rival governments. Given that we have heard so much over the last few years about the immense influence of the European Union you might have thought that a small matter like renting out an office block in London would be simple. But hold on. It turns out the EU will be stuck with a bill for hundreds of millions of euros for the buildings it abandoned in the UK – and its own pettiness is entirely to blame.
According to reports this week, the EU faces charges of up to €450 million (£387 million) after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) quit its headquarters in Canary Wharf. The building was originally sub-let to the shared office space giant WeWork, but now that it has gone bankrupt it is back on the market. The trouble is, office space in Canary Wharf is about as popular as the former Post Office boss Paula Vennells right now. With the rise of working from home, the big banks and law firms are handing back their keys and moving to offices that are smaller, cheaper, and closer to the centre of town. The chances of the EMA finding a new tenant are close to zero.
The result? It is now on the hook for €30 million (£26 million) a year in rent and bills, and since the lease runs until 2039 the total bill could be 15 times higher. It is, in other words, a lot of money, and is likely to blow a big hole in the budget of the medicines agency.