Today the UK government has finally activated Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, officially declaring what had been decided nine months ago: they are leaving the European Union for good, by April 2019 at the latest – deal or no deal.
That the European Medicines Agency would have to move from its Canary Wharf offices in London to the Continent had been obvious as soon as the Brexit vote was announced. Of course several EU countries quickly began to vie for the spoils of the UK‘s divorce from the European drug approval system. Germany, France, Spain, Italy The Netherlands, Denmark, Ireland, Sweden and Austria have thrown their hats into the ring, along with others.
Being home to EMA is not only about reputation: the world‘s second-largest agency has about 900 highly skilled (and appropriately paid) permanent international staff (presently only 7% are from the UK), and about 36,000 equally high-skilled life science experts from across the world visit every year for various consultations. Having the EMA offices within its quarters is an economic boost to any city.
As per the end of March 2017 it seems that the competition has narrowed to four candidate cities: Paris, Milan, Dublin, and Vienna. Many factors will play a role in the final decision, most of them based on the ancient laws of political patronage and exchange of favors. Leaving that aside, what pros and cons exist for these four cities?
First, the city should have a long track record in hosting international organizations, and should provide an attractive environment for their expatriates. This applies to all four candidates, but Paris and Vienna take the top positions by most counts.
Second, given the vast number of experts EMA draws every year, the host city should have sufficient direct flight connections with all European capitals, and should offer easy overseas connections as well. Again, its Paris and Vienna on top – Paris being the much larger and busier hub, and Vienna being slightly more central.
Third comes a consideration that should not be one, but actually it weighs in: it would be wise to move EMA to a country that does not have a top-rating pharmaceutical industry of its own (France), and does also not have a huge non-EU pharmaceutical presence (Ireland). Avoiding even the remotest impression of industry partisanship has to be Rule Number One for EMA. (Obviously, lobbyists can do their job anywhere; but it is psychology that counts here.)
That leaves Vienna, a city with high quality of life and excellent infrastructure that has been home to numerous international organizations for decades, is one of three „U.N. cities,“ and by and large much cheaper than Paris.
The Vienna city council‘s business agency has a website (archive link) that presents several potential locations. In our opinion, the two opportunities at the Belvedere quarters would make most sense. These are cutting-edge new office buildings (with 38,500 and 28,000 square meters, respectively available to the EMA). They are in a new city district close to the main railway station, with direct connections to the airport and to Vienna‘s highways.
Admittedly, with H.M. Pharma Consultancy‘s main offices in Vienna our perspective is not entirely impartial. But for all the reasons stated above, moving EMA here would be a good decision for the European Union, its people, and its pharmaceutical industry.