Brexit Update: A Substantial Prize in the EMA Relocation Bid

August 02, 2017

With the Brexit referendum resulting in the United Kingdom (UK)’s decision to leave the European Union (EU), the European Medicines Agency (EMA), currently located at Canary Wharf in London, will need to find a new home. At an EU Summit in Brussels 22 June 2017, the European Council adopted a procedure on how the EU will decide where to relocate the agency. It will culminate in a vote in November by all 27 member states, not including the UK.

Interested member states had until 31 July, to submit their bids. The European Commission will assess the bids by 30 September based on agreed criteria that include: that the agency be up and running by March 2019, the date of the UK’s withdrawal from the Union; that the host state provide appropriate offices, be near an airport that can be reached conveniently from the capitals of all member states, and provide multi-lingual schools for the children of agency staff. The focus is on ensuring business continuity and a smooth transition.

This will be followed by political discussion and a vote in November by the 27 EU ministers at the General Affairs Council. Their final decision will be announced on 20 November 2017. Each member state will choose its top three locations, with three votes going to its first choice, two to its second, and one to its third.

There are 19 countries vying to host the EMA, which comes with significant benefits. In addition to the prestige, there are almost 900 permanent agency jobs, hosting of meetings of seven scientific committees and advisory groups, and more than $1 billion in economic benefit. It is quite possible that European, American, and Asian pharmaceutical companies, which base a lot of their regulatory activities in London to work with the EMA, will relocate as well.

“For all of the cities that are competing, this is a very substantial prize,” said Rory Mullen, VP for Biopharma and Food at IDA Ireland, which prepared the Irish bid. “The strongest point of our bid is the business continuity. Dublin is the closest city to London, both geographically and culturally. If the EMA had to leave in the morning it would be possible with the 40-minute Dublin-London route – the second-busiest international route in the world – for all of the staff to commute on a Monday-to-Friday basis. And our HPRA (the Health Products Regulatory Authority in Ireland) already works closely with the EMA.”

Mullen notes that the type of multilingual, multicultural expertise necessary to deal with the complications of the European market, with its 27 different countries, with different legal systems and languages, is already thriving in Dublin.

“We’re strong in technology and financial services. Google has 5,000 employees here, Accenture has 2,500 people. We have a pan-European pragmatic culture that will ensure the business continuity. Dublin would be the least disruptive move.”

For Mullen, Ireland, and the other countries that submitted a bid to host the EMA, they now have to wait.

By: Scott Fotheringham, PhD


A. European Council website. “Procedure leading up to a decision on the relocation of the European Medicines Agency and the European Banking Authority in the context of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the Union. 22 June 2017. Available at