Dutch pick up tab for EMA move as Amsterdam stretches in size

An artist’s impression of the new EMA building provided by the health ministry

The European Medicines Agency will move to Amsterdam whether or not Britain leaves the EU but will spend most of its first year in ‘not optimal’ temporary offices paid for by the Dutch government, according to a press conference on Monday.

Meanwhile its employees are being encouraged to find accommodation and schools in an ‘Amsterdam metropolitan area’ spanning from Rotterdam to Bergen, near Alkmaar.

Bruno Bruins, medical care minister, pledged that the much-fêted move of the EU organisation with 900 employees ‘will go ahead’ even if Brexit does not, but said its permanent home will not be ready by the end of March 2019.

Instead, the Dutch government will – at its own expense – rent the Spark offices in Sloterdijk for the medical authorisation and safety monitoring body for 11 months so that ‘continuity [in its work] is guaranteed’.

A €250 to €300mln development for the European Medicines Agency (EMA) in Zuidas business district – currently a disused carpark and large puddle – will not be completed until November 2019.

Not ideal

Original plans to open its built-in conference centre then phase in an office move have been abandoned, and EMA deputy executive director Noel Wathion said the Dutch government will pay for the rental and relocation within the Netherlands. It will then rent the new building from the Dutch.

At the joint press conference between the Dutch government, Amsterdam municipal council and the EMA, the medical body’s executive director Guido Rasi admitted the temporary accommodation was a compromise.

Not optimal

‘It’s not optimal: we only have half of the space compared to our current premises,’ he said. ‘While we also have to use some external meeting facilities, we will at least be able to host our core scientific meeting in the temporary building.  We are also allow speeding up the construction of the final building…

‘We need a fully-operational building to move our staff from London to Amsterdam before March 29, 2019 when the UK goes from the EU. Even if these temporary premises are not ideal, they are the best option.’

The news led Italian media to report that Italy was to ask the European Commission to reconsider its decision to move the EMA to the Netherlands. Milan lost out on winning the prestigious EU agency after lots were drawn to decide the winner.

Udo Kock, deputy mayor of Amsterdam, said that it is also working to a generous definition of the ‘metropolitan area’ around Amsterdam in order to house and school the staff of the EMA, post-Brexit.

EMA site January 2018 Photo: S Boztas

A survey of EMA staff last November indicated that 81% of them would  move to Amsterdam, said Wathion.

But it emerged that to accommodate family needs – particularly for schooling their 550 children – Amsterdam is presenting housing options from Rotterdam to Bergen, where the European School of Bergen is obliged to take the families of EU employees and has space for 500.

Udo Kock, deputy mayor of Amsterdam, admitted it would be a challenge to accommodate the workforce with the capital’s ‘tight housing market’ and historically ‘a bit of a waiting list’ at its international schools – unless the definition of Amsterdam is broadened.

‘I think the official definition of the Amsterdam metropolitan area is in between IJmuiden and Almere and Amstelveen all the way up to Zaandam,’ he said. ‘When you look at it from an international perspective, from a London perspective, the metro area is much larger.


‘You have to keep in mind, in Amsterdam if you travel an hour and a half, you are almost in Germany, whereas in London after an hour and a half, you are in the suburbs.

‘All we want to do is to provide EMA staff with as many options as possible, including Alkmaar, which is 35 minutes by train from Amsterdam.’

He added that he would welcome staffers to his own home location of Amsterdam Zuid too: ‘If they want to live in Amsterdam, they are more than welcome…but if they want to move out to the suburbs, they are more than welcome to do that.’

Representatives from international schools in Bergen and The Hague were visiting the EMA in London on Monday, according to Colleen Geske, project manager for the Amsterdam municipality.

She added that its London-based helpdesk launched in November will offer one-to-one relocation consultations, but that the most-asked question so far has been about schooling for children.

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