Artfully thrifty: Let the battle begin between the EU member states vying for EMA

Denmark, Sweden and Ireland give their two Euro cents on the issue

The Brexit vote is ushering in a new era – not just for the UK, but also for the entire European Union.

The European Parliament, Commission or Council may be EU institutions familiar to most European citizens, but over the past few months other more specialised bodies have attracted increased coverage: the decentralised agencies that support EU institutions and member states with specialised knowledge.

Two of these are the European Banking Authority (EBA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA), both of which are situated in London and face relocation when Brexit comes into effect.

For Denmark, particularly the latter is of considerable interest and the Danish mechanisms of policy have begun grinding towards securing support to host the EMA in Copenhagen.

Dream team in place
Mayor Frank Jensen has already called for backing from his colleagues across the Øresund Bridge in Scania, while the foreign minister, Anders Samuelsen, will hit the road to Portugal, Austria and the Czech Republic on April 6-7 in a bid to secure alliances there.

Even the former head of Novo Nordisk, Lars Rebien Sørensen, has been recruited as a potent envoy charged with highlighting Denmark’s acumen within medicinal technology and biotech.

The runners and riders
But the Danes face plenty of stiff competition.

Last week, officials in Brussels said that six countries – Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Sweden and the Netherlands – appeared to be the most likely new hosts, although no official criteria has been revealed regarding the decision-making process.

Looking at the 33 decentralised agencies spread out across 23 member states, it becomes apparent that some countries might have a better argument for obtaining hosting duties – at least in terms of spreading out hosting duties equally among member states.

Denmark currently hosts one decentralised agency, the European Environment Agency (EEA), as do Ireland and Sweden. Meanwhile, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands all host two agencies.

The three favourites?
But there are many more indicators in play, and in a bid to shed some light on the situation, CPH POST spoke with Lars Rebien Sørensen, Gabriel Wikström (the Swedish minister for healthcare), and representatives from the department of health of Ireland.

What would be the main advantage for the EMA by settling in your county?

DK: What is most important here is not what impact this will have on Copenhagen or Denmark. The most important thing is that by placing EMA in Copenhagen we will provide the best possible conditions for EMA. By doing so we ensure that EMA will continue to deliver work of the highest possible standards to the benefit of European public health. Of course there are also benefits for Copenhagen. It would bring almost 900 highly qualified expats to the city and further underline Copenhagen’s status as the major medicohub in Europe. We already have the Medicon Valley – this would be further strengthened to the benefit of everyone in Denmark and the region.

SWE: I strongly believe that EMA, and the EU as a whole, would benefit from placing EMA in an innovative and thriving life science environment. The emphasis of the Swedish government on developing its healthcare sector with and building a world-leading life science sector, research and development (especially clinical research), as well as its strong focus on innovation, would provide an excellent working environment for EMA and make use of the life science cluster in the cities of Stockholm and Uppsala.

IRE: The EMA is an extremely high-functioning and respected agency that plays a key role in protecting the health and wellbeing of 500 million European citizens. The main advantage of the agency relocating to Dublin is that this offers the best guarantee of ensuring the business continuity of the agency, thereby minimising interruptions to its important work.

What is the most convincing argument for relocating the EMA to your capital?

DK: There are a lot of strong contenders, but I do believe that Copenhagen can offer the right package for the EMA. We have studied the objective criteria very carefully and concluded that we are among the best on all relevant criteria. Copenhagen is a very nice place for expats, and it offers a strong professional environment both in terms of public and private research and a strong pharmaceutical sector. It is also well connected in terms of flights, getting to and from the airport, and hotel capacity.

SWE: Given the mandate of EMA, an efficient and seamless transition is of utmost importance. In this respect, the Swedish Medical Products Agency, among one of the most active partners of the EMA, would be a valuable asset. Sweden is currently building a world-leading life science sector, and the life science cluster in the region would provide an excellent working environment for EMA. The Karolinska Institute, which hosts the Nobel Assembly that awards the Nobel prize for Medicine, is a top-ranked medical university. Sweden can offer excellent working and living conditions in an open and tolerant society. English is widely spoken here and Stockholm/Uppsala has Europe’s best public transport system. The region has the hotel capacity needed for incoming experts, and, with access to no less than four international airports, it is easy to reach. For the staff and their families, international schools, pre-schools and nurseries are available, and so are programs for partners of the staff.

IRE: The Irish government has offered Dublin as the new host city for the EMA as it believes that it exceeds all the critical criteria identified for a successful relocation of the agency. Dublin is best placed to attract serving EMA staff and thereby minimise disruption to the work of the agency.

When do you expect a confirmation on the future of the EMA?

DK: I believe that there is already a general consensus that EMA will have to move. All EU agencies are placed within the EU and it is unlikely that EMA could stay in London, especially taking into account the likely future relationship between the EU and the UK. I expect the process to begin soon after the UK formally notifies it will be leaving the EU in accordance with article 50. Ideally a decision should be made before the summer, but most likely it will be in the autumn.

SWE: The government and I support a rapid decision taken by the 27 member states on the relocation, preferably at the European Council in June. The sooner the criteria are presented, the sooner it will be possible to focus on the actual decision of the relocation.

IRE: The Irish government believes that once Article 50 has been triggered, an early decision on the future of the EMA is vital in order to ensure continuity of its business, and it looks forward to a decision in a short time-frame.

How do you intend to convince the EU Council?

DK: Our argument is two-fold. What we are doing right now is underlining that we need to look at objective criteria. The second part is for us to convince the rest of Europe that Copenhagen is the best choice for EMA. First of all, we have a world-class research environment. Secondly, we have an innovative and vibrant life science cluster. Thirdly, I would underline our strong focus on patient safety. Fourthly, the infrastructure in and around Copenhagen is very efficient – both getting around in Copenhagen, but also getting to and from Copenhagen from the rest of Europe. Fifthly – and very importantly in order to ensure that the current staff of EMA stays with the agency – Copenhagen offers high liveability.

SWE: A special EMA secretariat has been set up within the ministry of health and social affairs and they are working in close co-operation with the Stockholm County administrative board, the local county councils and municipalities, the Stockholm chamber of commerce, the Karolinska Institute and our medical products agency in order to arrange for a practical and professional reception of EMA. Bilaterally, we are working very intensely with other member states and institutions in order to promote the Swedish candidature.

IRE: The Irish government will present the case for the relocation of the EMA to Dublin at the appropriate time and will clearly set out why Dublin is the responsible choice as the new home for the agency.