The European Medicines Agency (EMA), the EU body responsible for the evaluation of medicinal products for use within the European Union, concluded a vote on Monday evening in Brussels following three rounds of voting.
“We are delighted, it was very tight, it was nerve-wracking, to be honest”
Halbe Zijlstra, Minister of Foreign Affairs, The Netherlands
The current headquarters in Canary Wharf, London, employs over 900 staff and has been located in the UK capital since 1995.
The decision to relocate is the second blow to the British economy in 48 hours after the European Banking Authority was lost to Paris. Critics have hailed the UK job losses as disastrous, although pro-Brexit campaigners cite that since the Brexit referendum in 2016, the UK economy has created over 100,000 jobs. As it stands, the EMA contributes over 379 million USD (322 million EUR) to the UK economy and receives over 40,000 business visits annually.
John Hardy, a geneticist at University College London, highlighted this loss in a statement to the British Science Media Center: “this is likely to lead in a disinvestment in the UK of pharmaceutical industry jobs …a major source of revenue and employment for the UK.”
It is little wonder that the Dutch rejoiced at the news. Dutch minister Halbe Zijlstra told the Guardian UK that “we are delighted, it was very tight, it was nerve-wracking, to be honest.” The EMA will move to the Netherlands from March 2019, following the construction of a new state-of-the-art complex. Donald Tusk, the EC president declared that “the real winner of today’s vote is the EU27.”
The decision was finalized after three rounds of voting where Milan faced Amsterdam in the final. 16 European countries bid for the vote; Bratislava came in fourth and Copenhagen, a strong favorite, was knocked out in the second round. The outcome was difficult to swallow for the Italians: “It’s like losing a final on penalties,” Italy’s EU affairs minister Sandro Gozi told reporters, adding that it had left a “bitter taste in the mouth” for a bid that was not behind at any stage. Some media companies wrongly reported that the decision was so close it was decided by a coin flip. This was later corrected.
Pharmaboardroom.com hosted an online survey before the votes were cast on Monday evening to gauge its executive readership’s thoughts on the EMA move. Interestingly, Amsterdam emerged as our readers’ favorite, taking 16.72% of the vote. Milan took less than 5% of the vote and Berlin was in contention with 11.33%. In terms of “why Amsterdam?”, our readers highlighted the cultural diversity and high level of English spoken there; the city’s strong scientific base, with 14 universities within a 1-2-hour drive; Amsterdam’s global connections, with a major international airport and both London and Brussels within easy reach; the Dutch quality of life; the country’s strong reputation for governance; as well as its well-developed IT data logistics infrastructure.
Whether considered a loss to the UK or a benefit to the Netherlands, the future of the EMA is now more certain and investors can now begin to take more informed decisions with regards to the EU’s 295 billion USD pharmaceutical market.
Writer: Joseph Hall