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19 cities bid for European Medicines Agency post-Brexit

Nineteen European cities have bid to host the European Medicines Agency or EMA, which will be relocated from London as a result of Brexit. The agency does not conduct research but draws on hundreds of top scientists from across the world for expert working groups.

The EMA is responsible for the scientific evolution, supervision and safety monitoring of medicines in the European Union. It has an annual operating budget of €300 million (US$352 million), a staff of nearly 900 and receives 36,000 visitors a year.

In June the European Commission invited interested member states to present proposals for the relocation, focusing on available housing, work for accompanying spouses, schooling for children, ability to reach major European capitals and a relocation plan for the smooth transfer of experts wanting to follow the move.

Among the 19 cities that submitted applications by the 31 July deadline were Amsterdam, Athens, Barcelona, Berlin, Bonn, Bratislava, Bucharest, Malta, Munich, Vienna and Warsaw, as well as the three Nordic cities Helsinki, Copenhagen and Stockholm.

Many of the bids include grand-scale projects involving hundreds of millions of euros worth of investments in buildings, individual transfer services for staff and other attractive features that the commission asked to be accounted for in the proposals.

Attractive offers

Some of the proposers may have over-bid in their sweeping offers of investment plans for housing, tax rebates for staff, relocation assistance etc.

The Danish government promised a 20-year free housing contract for the EMA – a move that Danish newspapers have considered strange as members of parliament had not been consulted about a state investment that might cost a billion krone (US$158 million).

Milan is offering sufficient room space in the Pirelli Tower in central Milan, described as “one of the most elegant tall buildings in the world”. Amsterdam has proposed the Vivaldi Building.

Athens said it would provide the historical building of the Keranis Tobbaco Industry, constructed on bioclimatic design principles, “fulfilling requirements for thermal insulation and enabling energy efficiency”, while Barcelona has promised the ready-to-use Torre Glories building, 10 minutes from the city centre.

Bonn has presented a new building option at the Bundeskanzlerplatz, in the middle of the Bundesviertel district directly on the Rhine. Zagreb will make the building Sky Office available for the EMA. Bucharest is offering a brand-new building on the Globalworth Campus in the Dimitrie Pompeiu Floreasca district, situated in the north of the capital city, with a residential complex comprising more than 400 dwellings to rent or buy nearby.

In March this year KPMG Switzerland did a location comparison using five criteria. “New Home for the European Medicines Agency”, mandated by Novo Nordisk in Denmark, ranked 16 candidate cities across five parameters. This exercise landed Paris as number one, followed by Copenhagen, Stockholm, Munich, Amsterdam, Berlin and Vienna.

New intercultural energy

The promotional material, despite its bias and lack of objectivity, demonstrates a strong intercultural engagement regarding international mobility and values among the proposers.

Academic staff and students considering moving to any of the cities might take a look at the promotional videos to see how the cases selected for presentation often involve individual citizens moving from another country to the host country, stressing the advantages of the move for family, life and career prospects.

Countries like Sweden, Denmark and Romania mobilised their prime ministers to participate in the contest.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said the Swedish capital Stockholm would provide a location for the EMA in the “midst of a life-science hub second to none in the world”, pointing to the building of a medical science cluster around the universities of Stockholm and Uppsala, and the Karolinska Institute, as reported by University World News.

Other arguments used in favour of Stockholm were its status as the fastest-growing capital of Europe and home of the Nobel Prize awards, in a country with a leading position among innovation nations in Europe, demonstrated lately by Skype and Spotify.

Prime Minister Mihai Tudose of Romania, himself a medical professional, in a 129-page prospectus supporting Bucharest described “a smart EMA agency in a vivid European city”.

Some criticism

But not everybody is impressed.

The fight for the EMA is “nationalistic and becoming ugly”, wrote Rasmus Nielsen, publisher of the Danish political online publication Altinget, in an op ed article, characterising the bidding for hosting the agency as “harmful for the European idea”.

“European unity is about common European solutions and standards and to promote a common European identity.” It was not about stimulating nationalistic competition, Nielsen stated, referring to the Danish prime minister’s offer of 20 years of free housing.

“Why are member countries playing against each other and hence giving fuel to the arguments of Eurosceptics?” Nielsen asked.

The European Commission has decided that the location of the EMA will be selected by a poll on 20 November.

Each member state can award up to six points to the competing cities. The first city receiving three points from at least 14 states will win. If there is no result, a second round will be held in which every member state will have one point to award for a preferred city.
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