EU agency voices ‘relief’ at Brexit move to Amsterdam

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The head of the London-based European Medicines Agency on Tuesday welcomed the choice of Amsterdam to host the EU regulator but said the move caused by Brexit could entail a loss of up to 200 staff. “Less uncertainty of course is good news, so overall the mood is very high,” EMA executive director Guido Rasi said at a press conference at the agency’s headquarters in Canary Wharf in east London.

“There is relief because now we have a decision.” An EU meeting in Brussels on Monday decided the EMA would move to Amsterdam as Britain is leaving the European Union and handed the European Banking Authority, another London-based institution, to Paris. The two watchdogs currently employ 1,000 staff.

The EMA will start operating in Amsterdam from March 30 2019, the day after Britain is scheduled to leave the European Union. It has sixteen months to organize a move which is estimated to cost around 400 million euros ($469 million, £354 million).

“Amsterdam ticks many of our boxes,” Rasi said, praising the city’s “excellent connectivity.” “It’s offering housing, hotels in the vicinity. It’s offering all the infrastructure to make it happen.” But Noel Wathion, the head of the EMA’s relocation task force, said the building provided by Amsterdam would not initially be able to host all EMA staff, with some remaining in temporary office close by.

Rasi also pointed out that even the most optimistic internal EMA survey gave an estimate of staff retention of up to 81 percent. “We are going to lose up to 200 people. This means we have to be very careful to monitor which specific expertise we might lost to have a plan to compensate for this loss of expertise and knowledge,” he said.

“The main challenge is not the physical location but the preservation of an activity that benefits all the citizens in Europe,” he said. EMA staff include pharmacists, biologists, doctors or biochemists, who are tasked with judging whether medicines are ready to be rolled out across the EU.

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