Bratislava surprise favourite to be new European Medicines Agency home

The decision on where the new home of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) will be is to be made today, and Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, has emerged as the surprise favourite to win the bid. 

The EMA must leave its current home in London because of Brexit, and ministers from the EU27 nations will carry out a secret ballot this afternoon to decide on which city should be awarded the prestigious agency.

British bookmakers Ladbrokes say the city is now 7/4 favourite to be the winning candidate, putting it ahead of Milan, on 5/2 and Amsterdam on 8/1.

No fewer than 19 of the EU member states have submitted bids to gain the EMA, which will bring with it considerable prestige for the winning city, as well as around 900 highly qualified staff and thousands of visiting experts every year.

Here is the list of the lead eight cities:

• Bratislava 7/4

• Milan 5/2

• Amsterdam 8/1

• Athens 8/1

• Vienna 8/1

• Copenhagen 12/1

• Barcelona 16/1

• Dublin 16/1

Ladbrokes reports that Milan was the initial favourite but has been overtaken because of the volume of bets for the Slovakia capital.If Bratislava does indeed win the bid, it will be a victory for EU politics, as the newer Eastern Europe member states have complained that none have so far been awarded an EU agency.

However Bratislava was far from being one of the favourites among the EMA’s own staff, as made clear in the staff survey result documents published by the agency in October.

The city was given a deep amber coding in the consultation documents in terms of staff retention, which signifies “Does not meet EMA requirements, and therefore, does not ensure EMA business continuity.”

This means that many EMA staff had indicated that they would not relocate with the agency from London to Bratislava – a huge loss of expertise which the agency has warned could bring EU medicines regulation to a shuddering halt.

The EMA is already looking to prepare for the loss of staff by making temporary hirings, but says it cannot be sure of business continuity in any circumstance.

The document also highlighted “very low flight connectivity” from Bratislava airport to other EEA capitals, and no direct flights from the city to international destinations.

It did score well on one criteria, the availability of “adequate education facilities” for the children of EMA staff. Bratislava’s lead in the betting is likely to alarm many stakeholders, such as the European pharmaceutical industry, which last week warned of the dangers of a politically motivated decision.

The city is one of the smallest capitals in Europe, with a population of just 450,000 people, making it a far cry from the fleshpots of London.

To complicate matters, ministers from the EU27 will also vote today on the destination of another London-based agency, the European Banking Authority (EBA). The dual vote is likely to increase deal-making and horse-trading between the nations, it what some have termed ‘Eurovision style’ tactical voting.

The decision is expected to be announced in Brussels around 6pm UK time, or 7pm European time.

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