Amsterdam Beats Milan to Host EMA

22.11.2017 -

Amsterdam, the Netherlands, has won the much-coveted prize of providing a new home for the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and its nearly 900 employees, beating out last-round rival Milan, Italy. The agency said it would “begin working immediately” with the Dutch government to ensure a successful move to Amsterdam by March 2019, when the UK is slated to leave the EU.

The EU’s General Affairs Council announced the decision on the relocation of both the EMA and the European Banking Authority (EBA) on Nov. 20. Both agencies were forced to leave their current bases in London due to the UK’s June 2016 vote to exit the union (Brexit).

Although the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, said Amsterdam getting the nod was thanks to his country’s “diplomatic efforts,” the Council said the Dutch city and Milan had an equal number of votes in the final round, with the winner pulled out of a bowl. Copenhagen, Denmark, landed in third place and Bratislava, Slovakia, in fourth.

Altogether 19 cities, including Goteborg, Sweden; Lille, France; and Bonn, Germany initially competed to host the EMA. Dublin, Ireland, withdrew its candidacy before the final round. The elimination of Bratislava in the first round was a blow to east European member states’ hopes of finally getting an EU agency.

Commenting on the choice, Guido Rasi, the EMA’s executive director, said

“Amsterdam ticks many of our boxes,” offering “excellent connectivity and a building that can be shaped according to our needs.” He said internal surveys showed that a “large majority” of EMA staff” would be willing to move to the city.

Tomas Drucker, Slovakia’s health minister, criticized the decision for Amsterdam as “strictly political,” adding that it is “not fair” and “not a good message for Europe’s inhabitants.” An EMA internal survey revealed that more than 70% of staff would have declined to move to the Slovakian capital.

Some commentators noted slyly that the cities chosen for both the EMA and EBA were in the easiest commuting distance from London, while others pointed to the enormous lobbying effort made by officials from the Netherlands and France. At one point, Frankfurt, Germany and Dublin, both of which also lobbied heavily, were seen as the front -runners in the EBA competition.

The EMA will begin its collaboration with the Netherlands by establishing a joint governance structure to steer and oversee the relocation project. In early December, the agency said it will publish a monitoring chart on its website that will allow interested parties to track the progress made.

Behind the scenes, many pharmaceutical players expressed concern that unraveling the marketing licenses for the around 2,400 drugs sold in the EU after the UK leaves may prove a bigger problem than moving headquarters. Rasi hinted in the aftermath of the vote that efforts to redistribute the responsibilities currently handled by the UK’s national regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, for the EMA were already in progress.