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Location, Location, Location

During Britain’s EU referendum campaign, many in the UK pharma industry raised concerns about what impact Brexit might have on the European Medicines Agency (EMA), currently located in London. The assumption is that EU agencies must be based within an EU member state. Indeed, a number of EU nations are already making moves to strip the UK of the Agency – Spain, Italy, Sweden and Ireland have all called for the EMA to leave London (and have made calls for the Agency to consider moving to their own countries). During an interview at Pharma Integrates in London (1), Guido Rasi, Executive Director of the EMA, raised his concerns over the disruption that relocation would cause both for the Agency and  the European pharma industry as a whole.

Rasi explained that because many EMA staff have lived and worked at the London based headquarters for over a decade, many would not wish to relocate to another European city. “I’m flattered that so many different cities and nations want us, but it would be a family decision [for the EMA staff],” he said. “We would lose quite a few very good experts.”

The interviewer, Trevor Jones – visiting professor at King’s College London and a former Head of R&D at Wellcome – probed Rasi on whether it might be possible for the EMA to have an official office based in the EU, but for most of the work to be carried out in London. Rasi, however, couldn’t give a conclusive answer, stating, “It’s beyond my power.”

The location of EU agencies comes under Article 341 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which states, “The seat of the institutions of the Union shall be determined by common accord of the governments of the Member States,” (2). In other words, there’s no specific treaty preventing an EU agency being situated in a non-EU country, which perhaps opens the possibility of the EMA remaining in London. But Jones argued that it seems “inconceivable” for any member state to allow the EMA headquarters to remain in London if the UK is not part of the EU.

“Where the political final decision scenario will land is very difficult to predict,” Rasi explained. “I have one sure answer, which is that everybody will grant me uncertainty until the last minute.”

In preparation for a potential relocation, Rasi revealed that the EMA has set up a task force. “We are preparing for all the worst case scenarios – from A to Z – including how we could cope with the loss of staff,” he said. Rasi argued that over the past 20 years, the EMA has created an efficient London-based environment that would be have to be recreated, regardless of location. “We have timelines for assessments and we respect 98 percent of them,” he said. “We don’t want to go back.”

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  1. Pharma Integrates, “Pharma Integrates 2016 day 1”, (2016). Available at: Last accessed December 5, 2016.
  2. Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, “Consolidated texts of the EU Treaties as amended by the Treaty of Lisbon”, (2016). Available at: Last accessed December 5, 2016.
About the Author
James Strachan

Over the course of my Biomedical Sciences degree it dawned on me that my goal of becoming a scientist didn’t quite mesh with my lack of affinity for lab work. Thinking on my decision to pursue biology rather than English at age 15 – despite an aptitude for the latter – I realized that science writing was a way to combine what I loved with what I was good at.


From there I set out to gather as much freelancing experience as I could, spending 2 years developing scientific content for International Innovation, before completing an MSc in Science Communication. After gaining invaluable experience in supporting the communications efforts of CERN and IN-PART, I joined Texere – where I am focused on producing consistently engaging, cutting-edge and innovative content for our specialist audiences around the world.

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