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19th Dec 2018

New HQ of EU medicines agency opens eight months after Brexit

  • The European Medicines Agency will temporarily work out of an office near the Amsterdam Sloterdijk train station (Photo: Franklin Heijnen)

The new office in Amsterdam which will house the European Medicines Agency (EMA) after Brexit will not be ready before November 2019, the Dutch government said on Monday (29 January).

The Dutch authorities have arranged a temporary office, which EMA executive director Guido Rasi said was "not ideal".

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  • 'Amsterdam is a neighbourhood compared to London,' said housing market expert Paul de Vries (Photo: Piotr Chrobot)

The EMA relocation from London to the Dutch capital was the result of months-long lobbying and a race between 19 cities, which was finally decided in a nail-biting finale by a drawing of a lot.

When presenting the Dutch bid in July 2017, the previous minister of Health, Edith Schippers, said that the EMA's new office building, which is being built from scratch, would be "open in april 2019", one month after Brexit.

She added that "of course we will have a period of transition" and that "maybe a part of the staff will be temporarily housed only for a part."

The official bid sent to the member states said that 1 April 2019 was the delivery date only for "the conference centre, as well as some of the workplaces".

The new expected opening of the office is eight months after Brexit.

Then deputy mayor of Amsterdam, Kasja Ollongren – now minister for interior affairs – said at the time that if the building was not ready on time, some staff could be temporarily housed in a building next door.

But according to EMA chief Rasi the initially proposed temporary office was not good enough.

"During the past few weeks, we have had extensive discussions on the selection of a temporary building," he told press on Monday.

"This took longer than expected, but I am glad that we now found a solution."

The temporary office will instead be located in the Sloterdijk area of Amsterdam, which is in the northeast of the city. The final building will be located in the south of the city.

However, Amsterdam is a comparatively small European city, and the two locations are only some nine kilometres apart.

Rasi noted that in the temporary building, staff will have only half the space they have now.

"But, let us be clear, we are working against extremely tight deadlines," he said.

"On 1 January 2019 we need a fully operational building in order to move our staff gradually from London to Amsterdam before 30 March 2019, when the UK withdraws from the EU. That means that even if these temporary premises are not ideal, they are the best option under the current time restrictions," he noted.

The relocation will also involve the moving of several hundreds of EMA staff – how many of the 900 will stay with the agency is not yet known.

But minister for medical care Bruno Bruins announced on Monday that a team aimed at helping staff find schools for their children and a place to live, would receive €2.5m.

Amsterdam - and surroundings

EMA staff have no guarantee that they will actually end up living in Amsterdam.

The city is very popular and finding a house or apartment can be challenging.

Housing market expert Paul de Vries, of the Dutch Cadastre, Land Registry and Mapping Agency, told this website that if he was an EMA employee, he would start his search for a house immediately.

"In particular if you want to live in Amsterdam, you have to start informing yourself today," he said.

But he was not too worried that the EMA staff would be able to find a place to live outside of Amsterdam, in a neighbouring city.

"Amsterdam is a neighbourhood compared to London," De Vries added.

The Amsterdam local government is also not expecting all EMA staff to live in Amsterdam.

It was asked by a local left-wing council member how the influx of EMA staff will influence the difficulty for local people to find housing.

The Amsterdam government replied that it would "promote" that staff moves to the entire metropolitan region, as well as to cities like Leiden, The Hague, Utrecht, and Alkmaar.

This article was amended on 30 January to clarify that the reference of the opening of the building by the April 2019 date was made by previous minister of health Edith Schippers, and that the official bid had not promised the building to be fully finished by then. The headline was also corrected to say that the planned opening is eight months after Brexit, not nine.

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