Amsterdam to host the European Medicines Agency after Brexit

13 December 2017

Sarah Faircliffe, Sally Shorthose

It has been clear for some time now that the European Medicines Agency (EMA), based in Canary Wharf, London since its establishment in 1995, will be relocated to another EU Member State as a result of the UK’s decision to leave the EU. 19 Member states came forward with offers to provide new headquarters for the EMA, and the promise of jobs, the additional spending power of EU officials and the opportunities for hospitality created by the frequency and size of delegate meetings, together with the prestige of hosting an important EU agency, all meant that there was stiff competition between the competing offers.

Although the EMA officially had no say in the relocation decision, its initial comments highlighted the need to ensure that the new host city has excellent transport connectivity and enough hotel accommodation for all the delegates attending EMA meetings, as well as suitable premises and facilities, school arrangements and housing for its staff. It was also clear that a number of EMA employees would be reluctant to relocate permanently from London. However, presumably fearing that a political agreement in favour of a Central or Eastern European city (who feel they have not to date been allocated their fair share of agencies) might weigh against these practical requirements, the EMA subsequently took the step of releasing the results of a staff survey into favoured cities. This showed that Amsterdam was top of the list, with Milan, Vienna, Barcelona and Copenhagen also favoured. The EMA took this opportunity to emphasise that the protection of public health must come first, and the risk of losing a large proportion of staff could result in disruption of the EMA’s day-to day functioning. The EMA had already published a “business continuity plan”; a prioritised list of its activities to indicate which may suffer as a consequence of Brexit and the relocation.

Most of the relocation criteria evaluated focussed on business continuity, and in the event when it came to the vote on the relocation on 20th November (in the margins of the General Affairs Council (Article 50) of the European Council), only cities favoured by more than two thirds of the staff – Amsterdam, Milan and Copenhagen – went through to the further round. Amsterdam finally won the role of new host city, after drawing lots in a final round tie break with Milan. It has been suggested that Milan's bid for the UPC Central Division court weighed against its bid for EMA.

Meanwhile, the EMA has published further information on its website to assist companies in preparing for Brexit. This consists of new procedural guidance outlining requirements for companies applying for marketing authorisation changes (prepared on the basis that the UK will become a third country as of 30 March 2019) and further regulatory guidance (an update of the initial Q&A document published in May).