Athens and Milan throw names into EU medicines agency hat

Twenty-three European cities have put themselves forward as candidates to host two London-based EU agencies. [Shutterstock]

Hosting the European Medicines Agency brings considerable economic benefits to the host city as the service employs more than 1,000 people, paid for by the EU. Athens and Milan are keen to secure a slice of this lucrative pie.

Around 20 countries across the bloc have already said they want to host the EMA, so competition will be tough and proceedings complicated.

A sign of trust

Greece claims that it has a “complete package” that makes its candidacy attractive.

Governor of the Attica Region Rena Dourou, who together with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is coordinating the country’s bid, told EURACTIV that the Greek package could guarantee business as usual during the transition.

“Our bid can ensure a smooth operation of the agency in order not to distort the functioning of the drug market and consequently to avoid a negative impact on the health of the citizens […] the needs of agency staff and their families will also be met,” she said.

In addition to the “objective” criteria, Dourou stressed that Athens’ general environment has an added value.

“It’s an environment perfectly suitable in all aspects – access to the labor market, operation of international educational institutions, mild climate, comfortable accessibility, security,” she insisted.

Dourou went a step further, stressing that the EMA’s relocation to Athens would confirm the ongoing positive change of climate in Greece.

“A positive development will mean very good news, not only for the pharmaceutical sector, which is of strategic importance for our country but for the national economy as a whole,” she said, underlining that it will mark another sign that the economy has entered a growth path. “This is good news also for Europe.”

Referring to the pharmaceutical sector, Greece’s Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs Georgios Katrougalos recently told EURACTIV that it was an area which survived the crisis.

“Our government views drugs as a social good and we think that this attitude is important in general for Europe.”

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Beyond national egoisms

The question of “geographical balance” was raised by newer EU members from Central and Eastern Europe which do not host any EU agencies.

According to the European Commission, the assessments of the bids will be based on all criteria, both “objective” and the “geographical balance”.

Dourou explained that the choice of the seats of European organisations was not quantitative but rather related to quality.

“It goes beyond national egoisms and concerns the future of European integration as a common bet for the cohesion of European societies,” she noted.

Italy: Synergies with EFSA

Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni believes that the prospect of the EMA relocating to Milan is an opportunity for the whole country. At a launch event earlier this week for the city’s bid, he insisted that its application is “very competitive”.

The Italian government has thrown its weight behind Milan’s bid. Italian leader Gentiloni said the Lombard capital has all the pieces in place to win the race for the much-sought-after agency.

“We will present a competitive dossier to Europe. Intelligent solutions and value that will be brought to the area have been found,” he explained at the event in Milan.

“We have done a great job. Today, we are faced with a huge opportunity for the country, for Lombardy and for Milan. We know that the competition is more and more about excellence and excellence means being able to attract jobs and business.

“These two elements are partly linked to the organisation of important events, like the EXPO, like the Olympic application. You win or you lose but experience tells us that these are extraordinary moments for the area. Bringing the EMA to Milan will be important for the network of researchers,” Gentiloni said.

The prime minister added that Milan’s bid means the EMA will be able to move without interruption of its work and highlighted that there will be “synergies” with the EU’s food safety agency (EFSA), which is based in the northern city of Parma.

Gentiloni called on the EU to make sure that the decision is based on the quality of offers and not on “geopolitical rebalancing” and reiterated that Italy “really wants the agency to be here”.

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Fighting ‘like a lion’

The head of the Milan bid, Enzo Moavero Milanesi, explained the process by which the decision will be made and that the destination of the EMA will be revealed in November.

He added that Milan’s bid offers the same tax incentives in place for the EFSA in Parma and the European Training Foundation (ETF) in Turin.

Mayor of Milan Giuseppe Sala expressed his hope that the government and Gentiloni will “fight like lions to bring the EMA” to the city. He added that Italy is sometimes “too timid and we do not realise our worth”, before listing his city’s extensive transport connections and public infrastructure.

President of Lombardy Roberto Maroni warned that securing the EMA for Milan is a “big challenge” but added that the region is coming together behind the bid.

Maroni explained that the Pirelli Tower, one of Milan’s main skyscrapers, located in front of the city’s main train station, has been made available for the agency.

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Background

In June, EU Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker presented the procedure for relocating the European Bank Authority (EBA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) from the UK after it leaves the EU.

The EMA is an EU regulatory authority which ensures that medicines available to 500 million citizens across Europe are appropriate and safe. Its office is currently in London but will need to be moved outside the UK because of Brexit.

Many suggest that this is the first test for the remaining 27 member states as crucial Brexit talks get underway.

Member states have until the end of July to submit their bids to host the two agencies, based on particular criteria. The Commission will then review the bids by 30 September.

The final decision is expected in November and, according to the rules, a Eurovision-style voting process will take place. For many, this was the most suitable option considering the high number of candidate countries.

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Further Reading