The European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the Dutch government have been engaged in “intense discussions” during the past few weeks over delays in preparations for the agency’s post-Brexit move from London to Amsterdam. Temporary offices that were supposed to house some of EMA’s staff were deemed “not fully fit for purpose,” putting more time pressure on both parties. All operations must move out of London by 30 March 2019, with a fully operational building needed by 1 January.
Representatives from EMA and the Dutch government finally found an alternative solution at a meeting in the Hague on Monday. EMA director Guido Rasi expressed concerns about the space, saying, “This is not an optimal solution. We will only have half the space compared with our current premises in London.”
Amsterdam won the bid in November of last year, beating out 18 other cities. The city council had previously promised EMA a seamless transition to avoid interrupting the agency’s work. EMA’s responsibilities include determining the safety and efficacy of drugs, licensing them for marketing in 31 countries, and monitoring adverse reactions to marketed treatments. After the victory, Dutch foreign minister Halbe Zijlstra promised, “Doors that close in London on Friday will open in Amsterdam on Monday.”
Amsterdam’s winning bid proposed a new office for EMA’s 890 staff, but noted it would not be able to provide space for all of them from day one. The city expects to complete the 19-floor building by the end of 2019, and it has offered to pay for temporary accommodation until construction is finished.
Rasi has described EMA’s move as the biggest challenge the agency has ever dealt with. He said the “double transfer” of staff in the Netherlands from the temporary building to the permanent one will cost more, and will require more time “to go back to normal business.” Despite the issues with the temporary accommodations, Rasi said “they are the best option under the current time restrictions.”
Although the agency’s relocation could slow some aspects of business, Rasi said he does not expect any major issues. “The shortage of medicines will not occur,” he said.
A possible staff shortage could pose a bigger threat to EMA’s operations than the issues with accommodation. Prior to selecting Amsterdam’s bid, an internal survey found that 81% of EMA staff would be willing to relocate there. The survey, however, was based on having a completed building rather than temporary accommodation.
Given the delays, EMA officials expect around 200 staff to choose an alternative future in London over relocating to Amsterdam. Replacing their positions quickly will be crucial to preventing the agency’s operations from stalling. The agency is working to retain as many staff as possible, according to Rasi, and will pay for relocation visits to Amsterdam.
EMA’s relocation also poses challenges for Amsterdam. Mayor Udo Kock said that the city will not have any problems with the influx of students since 850 school spaces were added last year, but said that housing availability will be “tight.” He added that EMA workers and their families will not receive any special housing offers.