Amsterdam will be the post-Brexit home of the European Medicines Agency, a decision made via drawing lots after the vote between the final two contenders came down to a tie.
The result came as a surprise as Milan had led two earlier rounds of voting during a secret ballot held at a meeting of Europe’s General Affairs Council. The second round saw Milan come up two votes short of winning outright. The Italian city won 12 votes, with Amsterdam picking up nine and Copenhagen getting five.
While the Council of the European Union confirmed the outcome of the ballot with Reuters, it provided no official account of the three rounds of voting.
The EMA has been headquartered in London since its founding in 1995. Some British officials tried to claim that London could keep the agency, but the European Union soon shut down that idea. The regulator has been seeking a new location since Britain voted to exit the EU, a move slated for March 2019.
The EMA had made it clear which locations it prefers of the 19 cities that made a bid to become its host city. Specifically, it has argued that moving to Amsterdam, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Milan, or Vienna would be least disruptive, PharmaPhorum reported.
Its criteria included accessibility of the location, the availability of “adequate education” for employees’ children and the ease with which employees’ families could access the labor market, social security and medical care.
The decision marks the end of a period of uncertainty and turmoil for the regulator—back in September, the EMA warned that moving its headquarters from London could cause “permanent damage” to its system.
While an employee survey identified 10 cities where 50% or more of EMA employees would be willing to move, it also found that than 30% of employees were willing to move to eight unnamed potential host cities. One city posted just a 6% retention rate. It would spell disaster if it were to move to one of these cities, the EMA said. Specifically, losing that many of its 900 staff would render the agency unable to operate, result in the “unraveling of the EU single market for medicines” and lead to a public health crisis.
In anticipation of such a crisis, the regulator offered up nearly £32 million ($42 million) to contract staffing agencies to secure temporary workers for a range of positions.
“Up to now the focus has inevitably been on the future location of the EMA. But today’s decision marks the moment when attention should switch to how patient safety and effective public health can be maintained during this complex transition and into the future,” said the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry.
“We now urge both the UK and the EU to put patients first and acknowledge that securing a comprehensive agreement to cooperate on medicines safety, regulation and supply is an urgent negotiating priority.”