The European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) has been based in Berkshire for the last 45 years but, as a result of Britain’s impending exit from the 27-nation bloc, the centre’s future EU-funded activities are now the subject of an international battle.
An official briefing note from a member state, shared with The Guardian, appeared to confirm the activity. “As a consequence of Brexit, a competition to relocate all ECMWF EU-funded activities from Reading in the UK to an EU member state is taking place during 2020,” it said.
ECMWF, which is also a key body for climate change research, is backed by 34 countries, 22 of which are EU member states.
The sought-after expansion consists of a facility with up to 250 jobs on offer. Nine countries – Austria, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain – are all said to be vying for its business.
As well as weather forecasts, ECMWF is responsible for several EU-funded programmes including two from the union’s Copernicus satellite Earth-observation programme, monitoring the atmosphere and ongoing climate crisis.
The Copernicus satellites, coined “Europe’s eyes on Earth”, process environmental data collected from Earth observation satellites and in situ sensors.
The satellites are so precise, they can map everything from plankton densities to colonies of penguins in Antarctica.
If the UK does lose out on hosting the new facility, it won’t be the first time a business has jumped ship as a direct consequence of Brexit.
The European Medicines Agency, which was based in Canary Wharf, in London, relocated to Amsterdam – along with 900 jobs – in 2019, on what was supposed to be 63 days before Brexit took effect. Similarly, the European Banking Authority moved to Paris from London because of the UK’s decision to leave the EU.
Even though the UK is eager to see the new facility be established alongside the current HQ in Berkshire, it remains unclear if the nation will even be eligible to bid.
Reading won the bidding for the weather centre in 1975 because of its proximity to the Met Office, which moved from Bracknell to Exeter in 2003.
A spokeswoman for the centre told The Independent: “ECMWF is currently seeking to open a new facility in a location compatible with EU funding policies, relevant to those activities ECMWF undertakes in partnership or on behalf of the EU.
“A few of our member states have expressed an interest in hosting the facility, and a decision as to where this new facility will be should be announced by mid-December.”
“The ECMWF headquarters will remain in Reading, in the UK,” she added.