EMA lays cornerstones for new Amsterdam headquarters

Director Guido Rasi and Dutch officials place a time capsule in the foundation of the EMA's new Amsterdam headquarters. (EMA)

The European Medicines Agency has begun laying the foundation for its new Amsterdam headquarters, aiming to finish construction by November 2019.

With just over 10 months to go before the official Brexit date and the EMA’s deadline to leave its home at London’s Canary Wharf—midnight the night of March 29, 2019 in Brussels, or 11 p.m. London time—the agency’s 900 staff plan to take up temporary digs just across town from the construction site for the intervening months.

EMA Director Guido Rasi, alongside representatives from the Dutch government and the city of Amsterdam, placed a time capsule in one of the cornerstones during a May 28 ceremony, containing good wishes for the construction process and the office tower’s future.

The building itself was commissioned by the Netherlands, in the city’s southern Zuidas financial district. Construction will be led by the country’s Central Government Real Estate Agency, which maintains a portfolio of government offices, airports, historical monuments and museums.

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The EMA’s temporary location will be half the size of its current London headquarters, forcing the agency to conduct many meetings off-site. Earlier this year, the EMA said it expects little disruption to its main operations.

“For the offices, I think we have enough [space] with some less comfortable solutions,” Rasi said at the time, adding, however, that the series of moves will cost more and could prolong the agency from getting back up to full speed after leaving the U.K. “It is workable. The core business will be run inside the building.”

“Even if these temporary premises are not ideal, they are the best option under the current time restrictions,” he said, having described the relocation effort as the EMA’s biggest challenge since its founding in 1995.

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In November 2017, Amsterdam edged out Milan to win, after ministers drew lots following a tie in the final of three rounds of voting. Amsterdam had previously represented one of the top picks of EMA staffers, from a field of 19 cities looking to host the European drug regulator.

Choosing other, less-desirable destinations could have led to the loss of large percentages of employees unwilling to make the move. Low retention rates could permanently cripple the agency’s capabilities, the agency warned European ministers before their votes on the future homes of the EMA and the European Banking Authority last fall.