Ireland in the starting blocks for Brexit drugs agency

Europe’s banking and medical oversight agencies are seen as the first tangible spoils that the remaining EU 27 countries will secure from Brexit.

The Irish Government has formally submitted its bid for both agencies in recent weeks. The chips are stacked against luring the European Banking Authority, or the EBA, with the heavy weights from Frankfurt and Paris, with long established credentials in the sector, the more likely choices.

The greater plum for Ireland and the one where it has the best credentials is the European Medicines Agency, the EMA, which employs 800 staff in London’s Canary Wharf, over

four times the numbers employed at the EBA. Medicines is a €260bn industry in the EU, which needs expert and competent regulation. Disruption of the functions of the agency could have serious health and safety consequences for the industry. Maximising staff retention and continuing to attract the best expertise to the EMA are vital to its future.

Ireland’s Health Products Regulatory Authority makes a significant contribution to the running of the EMA. Irish staff sit on all the main committees and chair many of them. Moving the EMA to a neighbouring country, where English is the main language, is the least disruptive option for London-based staff. Dublin also offers very good connections if families of EMA staff wish to remain in London for a period after Brexit.

If the decision on relocating was left to existing staff of the EMA, then Dublin has to come out tops, notwithstanding the fact that executive director of the agency, professor Guido Rasi, hails from Padua in Italy, which is very close to Milan which has also put in a bid.

Competing against bids from 22 other EU countries, the Irish government bid looks very impressive. Three suitable locations in Dublin have been offered--two of which are in the docklands and the other at Dublin Airport. Building at the leading site is scheduled to start this month. That would make it ready for March 2019, a commitment required under the bid.

The Irish Government’s bid also offers a comprehensive family relocation package, including access to quality education, a growing labour market for spouses, social security and medical care.

However, the decision is a political one which will be made the by ministers of the 27 remaining members states. A long standing commitment by the European Commission to allocate EU agencies in an equitable manner will come into play. But also in play will be the ruling that no one county will be entitled to get both agencies moving out of the UK. This could rule out the EMA bid from France and Germany, as they are both front runners for the banking agency.

A quick look across the EU member states and we see that most member states have a least one EU agency, with the exception of Romania, which has put in a bid to host the EMA in Bucharest, as well as Bulgaria which has offered Sofia. Both cities suffer from poor telecommunications and international flight connections across the EU, as well as possibly presenting language challenges for many of the existing London-based staff.

Ireland’s economy is likely to suffer damage in the wake of Brexit and securing one of the EU agencies that will exit Britain represents the best chance of balancing the books.

This argument may play well in Brussels where there is an acknowledgment that Ireland has the most to lose when Britain exits the EU. Also, the EU agency already located in Ireland, the Eurofound, is a low budget social research agency, whereas many of the other member states have multiple agencies.

The Irish Government makes a strong point in its bid document. It argues that it is appropriate to consider the geographical spread of agency seats, but notes the decision must also take into account that the relocation of the EMA involving an established, high-level agency of crucial importance to the health of the citizens of the union, is unprecedented.

To relocate, in a timely manner, an agency of this size requires a location that can sustain its long term future.

It is hoped that EU leaders buy into this logic and choose Dublin.


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