Statement by Executive Director Guido Rasi in The Hague
EMA relocation project – press conference with Dutch authorities*
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Good afternoon. I would like to thank the Dutch authorities for welcoming us here today and Minister Bruins for his opening remarks.
As you know, the UK announced its intention to withdraw from the EU on 29 March 2019. Therefore, last November the EU27 took the decision to relocate EMA from London to Amsterdam.
But who are we? And what does this move mean for the Agency and the Netherlands?
EMA was established 23 years ago and is responsible for the scientific evaluation of medicines for human and animal use in order to recommend them for an EU marketing authorisation. We also monitor the safety of all medicines marketed in the EU. Our role is key to ensuring that medicines on the EU market are safe, effective and of good quality, and that citizens across the EU can benefit from innovative and potentially life-saving medicinal products.
The decision that EMA will move to Amsterdam was welcomed by the Agency and its staff. The city ticks many boxes: it offers good transportation links for the thousands of experts who visit EMA every month. It also provides housing and schooling for our staff and their families in the city and the surrounding area. In fact, in a staff survey carried out last year, over 80% of our 900 staff said they would be willing to move with the Agency to Amsterdam. It was their preferred new location.
Despite this, one thing is clear: the physical relocation of EMA to a new host country is the single biggest challenge EMA has ever had to deal with since its establishment. Moving a large organisation such as EMA to a new location is a complex undertaking under any circumstances. It is made even more challenging by the ambitious timeline we are given: we will need to be based in Amsterdam from day one of Brexit, that is by 30 March 2019.
And there is yet another layer of complexity: EMA's final building in Amsterdam will not be ready by then, so we will need to first move to temporary premises in the city, and then to the final building. This double transfer will force us to invest more resources. It will prolong our “business continuity planning” mode, which means that it will take us longer to go back to normal operations, where we can again carry out important public health activities beyond those imposed on us by legislation.
Since November we have worked hard with the Dutch authorities to ensure that the transition is as seamless as possible. I would like to thank them for their willingness to engage. We have also been pleased with the broad support to staff put in place by the city of Amsterdam.
During the past few weeks, we have had extensive discussions on the selection of a temporary building. Both sides agreed that the initially proposed buildings were not fully fit for purpose, and that therefore, our Dutch partners had to find another option. This took longer than expected, but I am glad that we now found a solution. However, this is not an optimal solution. We will only have half the space compared with our current premises in London. While we will also have to use external meeting facilities, we will at least be able to host our core scientific meetings in the temporary building. This solution may be less disruptive to our work and will also allow the constructors to speed up the completion of the permanent building in Zuidas.
But, let us be clear, we are working against extremely tight deadlines. 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.
We are very much looking forward to the completion of the final EMA premises and are very grateful that the Dutch government is sharing our ambition to aim for a cutting-edge, modern building that will not fall short of EMA's current premises in London. I am confident that the architecture we are looking at today will be able to accommodate our needs for the decades to come.
Please be assured that we at EMA will do our utmost to make this double move work. Because we all need to be aware of what is at stake here: the preservation of an activity that benefits all citizens in Europe and protects public health.