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19th Jan 2019

Dutch offer €250mn office for EU medicines agency

  • The new building for the EU medicines agency, if the Netherlands will host it, will be built in the business district in southern Amsterdam (Photo: Pieter Musterd)

The Dutch government and Amsterdam municipal authorities are willing to spend up to €2 million on its bid to host the European Medicines Agency (EMA) after Brexit, Amsterdam deputy mayor Kajsa Ollongren told EUobserver on Tuesday (11 July).

If EU member states decide in November that the EMA should go to the Netherlands after the UK leaves the EU, the country would spend an additional €250 million to €300 million to construct a building especially for the agency.

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The Netherlands would also invest €2 million in its national regulator, the Dutch Medicines Evaluation Board, and €8 million in the EU network of regulators.

Ollongren presented the Dutch bid in Brussels on Tuesday alongside Dutch health minister Edith Schippers and Wouter Bos, chairman of the board of directors of VU University Medical Centre.

Bos was appointed as special ambassador for the Dutch bid and is a familiar face in Brussels: he used to be the Dutch finance minister (2007-2010).

“I personally cannot remember any time in my career when a European institution was loved so much by so many,” he said.

Search for a new home

Of the 27 remaining EU member states after Brexit, 23 countries have expressed an interest in hosting the EMA, or the European Banking Authority, another EU agency that needs a new home.

“May the best bid win. Of course, we are convinced that the bid that I hold here in my hands is the best bid,” said Bos.

Health minister Schippers, who is actually caretaker minister after the 15 March parliament elections, which have still not yielded a new coalition, “urged” member states to keep the interests of patients in mind.

“Think of the many people with chronic diseases, who can live good and productive lives thanks to their medication. Think of all those patients with cancer that have an ever-increasing chance of survival, thanks to innovative treatments and medication,” she said.

The subliminal message was: do not let political desire for a prized possession overshadow the need for a smooth relocation of an agency that tests medicines and treatments.

“There is strong competition and fierce debate about the relocation of EMA. We all want the douze points,” said Schippers, referring to the Eurovision-style voting that will decide the new location of the agencies.

Political decision

Member states have until 31 July to present their bids, following which the European Commission will produce an assessment of the pitches.

The commission acts as the EU's executive branch and is seen as the most neutral institution to carry out the assessment.

However, in the end there is still a possibility that political horse-trading determines the final location of the agencies.

“Of course, we know that this is a political decision,” said Schippers. “But we urge every country to take into account the assessment of the European Commission.”

The Dutch presented their bid to journalists in a room in the Residence Palace, a stone's throw from the European Council and commission buildings.

Journalists were handed an 86-page document which purportedly explained why Amsterdam was the best location.

Rent

According to the bid, the EMA would have to pay between €8 million and €9 million in rent a year, a normal market price.

That is a lot less then the almost €16 million a year the agency is stuck paying for the next 22 years, because it had not included a break clause in its contract for the London building.

The Dutch bid specifically noted that its rental contract could include a break clause. It also said that the Netherlands was “willing to provide EMA with a one-off financial transition incentive”, which could include a rent-free period. However, it said the “details of these incentives will be presented in a separate letter”.

The estimated cost of the building would mean that it would take between 27 and 37 years before the investment in the new building will have been paid back in rent.

If the Netherlands wins the bid, building will start shortly afterwards and should be finished by April 2019.

Amsterdam deputy mayor Ollongren said that this was a short period.

However, she said that if the building is not completely finished, some staff can be temporary housed in the building next door, belonging to consultancy firm EY – formerly Ernst & Young.

Ollongren said that there was no agreement yet with EY, but that that “shouldn't be a problem”.

Relocation of EU agencies could save money

The EU agencies that will leave London after Brexit are likely have a financial windfall of several million euros a year, because of the way EU salaries are calculated.

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