EMA Rejects Milan Link in Top-level Talks with European Parliament

Sep 05, 2017

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) was quick to respond to the blog post last week about Brexit-related talks between its Italian boss and the Italian head of the European Parliament. There was no question of favoring the Italian candidacy of Milan to host the agency when it moves out of London, it insisted.

The press statement (cited in the blog) from Antonio Tajani, the EP president, "correctly reflects Prof. Rasi’s own concerns about the need for a reasoned, rational approach to the selection of a new location for the European Medicines Agency that guarantees continuity of EMA’s operation in the interest of public health in the EU," said EMA in an email.

"Mr Tajani and Prof. Rasi are both of the opinion that there are a number of candidate cities that fulfil EMA’s requirements for a smooth transition among the bids submitted."

EMA went on to "categorically deny" any suggestion "that this meeting can be construed as being in favor of one particular location."

It explained that the unusual meeting was a response to the unusual circumstances.

"The European Parliament, which has a seat on EMA’s management board, is taking a keen interest in how the impact of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU and the Agency’s relocation may affect EMA’s ability to protect the health of European patients and consumers," it said.

"While you may find a meeting between the head of an EU agency and the president of the European Parliament extraordinary, the withdrawal of a member state from the EU and the re-rooting of a large, well-functioning agency such as EMA are unprecedented and require extraordinary measures by all those concerned."

That's clear enough. As the latest round of EU/UK negotiations demonstrated so eloquently last week, very little is going smoothly in this awkward process of Brexit, and we are all living in extraordinary times. Until now, the Parliament's principal relationship with EMA has been the annual process of agreeing its spending and checking its accounts—duties carried out by its committees responsible for budgetary affairs. The EMA head has also routinely appeared before the Parliament's health committee for hearings and updates on its work, and occasionally in response to specific health questions.

Given the Parliament's engagement in the financial aspects of EMA management, one of the many extraordinary issues that will have to be tackled when Brexit happens in 2019 is the massive bill for outstanding rent on the agency's custom-built London headquarters. The lease, with no termination clause, runs until 2039, and the options for subletting are limited. So, someone is going to have to find around $450 million to fill the gap. According to a recent EMA briefing paper to the Parliament, the final responsibility for bearing the costs "will be decided during the EU/UK negotiations." Having seen how wide the gulf is between the two sides on matters of even more significance for the future—ranging from trade relations to border security, and from citizens' rights to nuclear safety, all one can say is "Good luck with that!"

Peter O'Donnell is a freelance journalist who specializes in European health affairs and is based in Brussels, Belgium.

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