Italy cries foul over temporary accommodation of EU Medicines Agency

(L-R) Minister of Medical Healthcare and Sport Bruno Bruins, CEO of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) Guido Rasi and deputy mayor of Amsterdam Udo Kock during a press conference about the new location of the EMA at business district The Zuidas in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 29 January 2018. [EPA-EFE/ROBIN VAN LONKHUIJSEN]

Dutch officials and the head of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) yesterday sought (29 January) to allay any jitters among the agency’s 900 London-based staff who are being asked to move to Amsterdam because of Britain’s departure from the EU.

Construction of the EMA’s “cutting-edge, modern building” will reportedly cost €250 to 300 million, but it is not scheduled to be ready until November 2019. At present, the location is still a building site.

Instead, temporary accommodation has been rented to enable the relocation of the EMA’s scientists and researchers to start from January 1, 2019 and be completed by March 30, 2019 – the day the new post-Brexit era begins.

“The physical relocation of the EMA to a new host country is the single biggest challenge the EMA has ever had to deal with since its establishment,” admitted its executive director Guido Rasi.

He is the man charged with overseeing the complex move and he acknowledged to reporters the job was “made even more challenging by the ambitious timeline”.

Based since 1995 in London’s now bustling Canary Wharf business district, the EMA evaluates and supervises medicines for human and animal use.

It helps national authorities authorise the sale of drugs across the EU’s single market, which currently comprises 28 countries and more than 500 million people.

The temporary HQ will only have “half the space” of the London offices, Rasi said. But the Italian official added it was worth waiting for the new “cutting-edge, modern building,” saying it will meet “our needs for decades to come”.

The “continuity of EMA’s important work is crucial for millions of patients in Europe,” stressed Dutch minister for medical care Bruno Bruins.

Italy will ask European authorities to consider reviewing EMA’s relocation to Amsterdam and whether the agency could be moved to Milan, in light of concerns raised by Rasi about the temporary space available in Amsterdam.

“The government will take all appropriate action with the European Commission and the relevant authorities to make sure that … the decision by which Milan lost out at the draw is (reconsidered),” he said.

Milan, considered the favourite to host EMA, lost to Amsterdam after a dramatic ministerial meeting in Brussels on 20 November.

Amsterdam, Paris take EU agencies in lucky dip thriller

Amsterdam and Paris won the right to host the two EU agencies that must leave London on Brexit after a dramatic ministerial meeting in Brussels on Monday (20 November) that left both result decided by drawing lots after votes were tied.

Amsterdam ‘fully committed’

After beating off stiff competition from 15 other cities, Dutch authorities have embarked on a charm offensive to help find housing and schools for arriving EMA staff.

“We are fully committed to make your relocation as smooth as possible,” said Bruins.

International schools based in The Netherlands are already visiting London to talk to staff, while a new help-desk has been set up in Amsterdam which will begin providing one-on-one support, including helping partners of EMA officials to find jobs.

Amsterdam’s deputy mayor, Udo Kock, acknowledged housing in the crowded canal city was already “tight”, but suggested some of the staff might be tempted to live outside the centre.

Rasi told AFP he “admired the resilience” of his staff, adding they were all extremely focused on the move.

While he suggested Monday that all 900 staff said they would be prepared to move, in November he said the relocation could lead to the loss of 200 people.

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