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Home EJIL Analysis Trivia: International Organizations Headquartered in Non-Member States

Trivia: International Organizations Headquartered in Non-Member States

Published on May 5, 2017        Author: 

Michael Waibel’s post of yesterday highlighted one of the significant issues that will need to be sorted out in the Brexit negotiations between the UK and the EU. Another issue, though of less significance, that will need to be resolved is the (re)location of a couple of EU agencies that currently have their headquarters in London: the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European Banking Authority (EBA). It has been reported that the EU, understandably, wishes to move these agencies out of London once Britain leaves the EU and apparently a number of cities are competing to have these agencies relocated to them (see here and here). However, it has also been reported that Britain would like to keep these agencies located in the UK even after Brexit.

“David Davis, Brexit secretary, does not accept that the two agencies and roughly 1,000 staff will have to move from London’s Canary Wharf, even though the EU is about to run a competition to relocate them. A UK Brexit department spokesman said: ‘No decisions have been taken about the location of the European Banking Authority or the European Medicines Agency — these will be subject to the exit negotiations.’

The government has left open the possibility of keeping part of some EU agencies, at least in the short term, but the idea of the UK hosting key institutions after Brexit is unacceptable in Brussels.”

While the idea that EU institutions may remain based or even headquartered in the UK after the UK remains in the EU might, at first sight, seem unrealistic, it should be remembered that Geneva was the “European headquarters” for many decades when Switzerland was not a member of the United Nations. Switzerland only joined the UN in 2002, over 50 years after the UN was formed and had based its major European office there.

From time to time I have posed trivia questions on the blog, but usually related to international tribunals. This time I have a question that relates to international organizations.

My question is this: Which international organizations have their headquarters or main offices located in a non-member state?

Answers in the comments box below please. Many thanks to my colleague Miles Jackson for bringing this story to my attention and for providing me with one answer to the question above!

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8 Responses

  1. Cathal Kelly

    OPEC, head quarters in Vienna, Austria.

  2. Leonardo Castilho

    Even if no longer applicable, it might be an interesting reminder that Switzerland only joined the UN in 2002, despite hosted different UN headquarters for decades before that…

  3. Maarten Vidal

    ACP and CEFTA, both headquartered in Brussels (www.acp.int / http://www.cefta.int)
    EFTA has its secretariat in Brussels but its legal headquarters in Geneva (www.efta.int)

  4. Elvira Dominguez Redondo

    It does not completely fit here but the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (autonomous organ of the Organisation of American States to which the US is a member) has its headquarters in Washington, despite the US not being a party of any treaty of the inter-american system for the protection of human rights. Several States have repeatedly requested to move it to Costa Rica.

  5. Dapo Akande

    Dear Cathal, Leo, Marten & Elvira,

    Thank you for your answers. OPEC was the one example that I had mind (or to be more precise, that Miles had in mind). OPEC was previously based in Geneva with Switzerland not being a member, before a move to Vienna in 1965.
    There are a couple of organizations which Switzerland is not a member of that are headquartered in Geneva: the International Civil Defence Organization (Switzerland has observer status), and The South Center (53 Member States).

    Has anyone got any thoughts as to why any of these of organizations is headquartered in a non-member state? Having the headquarters and the secretariat of ACP in Brussels makes a lot of sense since one of the main functions of that organization is to coordinate the activities of that group of countries within the framework of their partnership agreements with the EU.

  6. Kriangsak Kittichaisaree

    Answer re: OPEC can be found at: https://www.quora.com/Why-is-the-OPEC-headquartered-in-Vienna

    In modern times, Geneva aspires to be the world’s capital city for IOs, irrespective of whether Switzerland is a Member State of the IOs in question.

    Does Dapo’s question include regional offices of IOs? If it does, there is one amazing fact: Bangkok (aspiring to be the ‘Geneva of the East’) is where the regional office of the UNHCR for Southeast Asia is located. Why amazing? Thailand has never accepted that there is such thing as ‘refugees’, and only 3 the 12 States covered by that regional office (Cambodia, the Philippines, and Timor Leste) are party to the Refugee Convention.
    PS: no debate on ‘refugees’/’non-refoulement’ here, please!

  7. Elvira Dominguez-Redondo

    Kriangsak, really interesting!
    Dapo, my guess is that the neutrality status of Austria and Switzerland may be one of the reasons, apart from the convenience of locating headquarters where permanent missions are already operating. The Iran-US claims Tribunal -which enjoys the status of international organisation- is also based in the Hague.

  8. MIchael

    Re Dapo Akande’s last question:

    South Centre: pretty easy explanation: they work mostly on trade, social development and environment issues – and WTO, UNCTAD, UNEP etc. just happen to sit in Geneva. It makes a lot of sense for them to be there so as to attend the relevant formal and informal meetings etc. but obviously Switzerland could not be a member.

    ICDO works a lot on disaster preparation capacity-building, so again, Geneva as the seat of most multilateral humanitarian organizations is a good choice.

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