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FILE PHOTO: The headquarters of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) is seen in London, Britain April 25, 2017. REUTERS/Hannah McKay/File Photo

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By Emma Pinedo

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain's move to take direct control of Catalonia and thwart the region's independence bid has put Barcelona back in the race to host the European Medicines Agency (EMA) once it leaves London after Brexit, Spain's health minister said on Wednesday.

The European Union is due to pick the winner among 19 candidates, among them Amsterdam, Vienna, Milan and Copenhagen, on Monday, Nov. 20.

Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia and Spain's second largest city, was seen as a frontrunner until the Catalan government's push for independence triggered the country's biggest political crisis in four decades.

But Spain's Health Minister Dolors Montserrat said this "risk" had now been dealt with and Barcelona was back in shape.

"Once direct rule was enforced, we gave peace of mind to Europe and Europe backed us," Montserrat told Reuters in an interview. "Barcelona is one of the strongest candidates and we will fight until the last minute."

She said choosing Barcelona would also send a strong signal to nationalist and populist movements across Europe that the European Union is a strong project that is here to stay.

The EMA has been based in London since 1995, but must find a new home after Britain voted to leave the European Union. The agency, a one-stop-shop for approving and monitoring safety of drugs across Europe, must be headquartered in an EU country.

EU officials recently said that none of the 19 cities vying for the EMA had dropped out of the running since the contest was opened some months ago.

EMA's fate will be decided during a meeting of the 27 European Affairs ministers in Brussels on Monday before a vote the same day among eight cities for the smaller European Banking Authority.

The prize is to replace London as a major hub for international pharmaceutical firms and researchers seeking approvals for products, bringing jobs and travel business.

(Writing by Jesus Aguado; Editing by Julien Toyer and Andrew Heavens)

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Reuters