IDA hoping to win 900 jobs with European Medicines Agency

Dublin one of 19 cities vying for EU’s medicines regulatory agency

It's an ill wind that doesn't blow someone some good, but for EU states Brexit has few upsides. One real prize, probably the biggest, is the chance to host EU institutions relocating from London, notably the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European Banking Agency (EBA) both of which Dublin has set its sights on.

But the competition is fierce and all are running expensive campaigns.

Last week Tommy Fanning, the IDA’s head of biopharma, was back in Brussels pressing the Irish case for EMA, lobbying diplomats, industry, European Commission officials and the media.

Across town Bonn was setting out its stall in the representative office of the state of North Rhine Westphalia, with a couple of ministers and a glossy video presentation, and an assurance that there is no better place to live than in the quintessentially international city.


Vienna has also pitched publicly, and Helsinki will do so in a few days.

Ireland’s case is made in a glossy 100-page brochure and video, both introduced by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, offering three tailor-made sites in Dublin – two in the North Wall area and one close to Dublin Airport – for the 900 highly-qualified staff, and some €78 million in grants to help with rent and staff relocation costs. It is among the most generous of the financial packages on offer.

The appeal of the EMA is not only the top-pay jobs but the revenue boost to the city from accommodating its 36,000 visitors every year, and the potential also for relocation of pharma company regulatory offices.

In Europe the sector produces some €220 billion a year and employs about 800,000 people. Ireland has become an important centre for manufacturing and, increasingly, research. It has seen some €10 billion invested here in the last decade by biopharmaceutical and biologics businesses.

Perfect fit

All 10 of the top firms have bases in the State. That makes it, Fanning argues, a perfect fit for the EMA.

Some 19 cities have bid for the the €322 million agency – Amsterdam, Athens, Barcelona, Bonn, Bratislava, Brussels, Bucharest, Copenhagen, Dublin, Helsinki, Lille, Malta, Milan, Porto, Sofia, Stockholm, Vienna, Warsaw, Zagreb. Eight are vying to host the EBA.

Currently located in Canary Wharf, the European medicines regulator was established in 1995 to eliminate duplication between the member states in drug and medical equipment approvals. The aim was to reduce what was then estimated at a €350 million annual cost to companies in having to win separate national approvals.

The total cost of the relocation from London is put at some €582 million.

In June, EU heads of government agreed to “objective” criteria for the bids, focusing on accessibility, IT networks, airports, job markets and housing, heath and educational facilities for families.

Among issues to be considered was the strength of a country’s biopharma sector, the number of pharma companies present, and the size of its medical research community to provide available experts in different scientific fields. The priority is a seamless transfer and the continuity of operations from day one.

An assessment based on similar criteria by consultants KPMG back in May ranked Paris top and Copenhagen second in the top six. A second batch of cities – Vienna, Lyon, Bonn, Dublin, Brussels and Barcelona – were found to offer good opportunities but deemed less ideal due to weaknesses in areas ranging from the size of the life sciences cluster to connectivity.

European school

Among Dublin’s challenges are concerns about the availability of housing, schools and transport. Fanning argues, however, that the sites on offer have residential planning approval, that the Government has promised to see that a European school is opened in the capital if it wins the bid, and that the completion of the cross-city Luas will make a huge difference to the transport infrastructure.

The commission will announce its assessment on September 30th, and whittle down the list to those who best meet the criteria, at which point the process returns to the intensely political arena of lobbying between ministers.

Fanning is convinced the Irish bid is likely to survive that first scrutiny. Then, he says, it's all up to schmoozing by the Taoiseach, and Ministers for Health and Foreign Affairs Simon Harris and Simon Coveney. No doubt they will combine a strong technical case with the oft-repeated and well-understood message here that Ireland will be hardest hit by Brexit. the EMA relocation would be some compensation. And, of course, its staff would love to live in Dublin.

A council decision will be made in November.

One of the criteria is that of geographical diversity – an aspiration to share the location of EU institutions among the member states who have not yet got them. To date Romania, Slovakia and Bulgaria do not have an EU agency but their bids have in recent weeks fallen foul of a protest by EMA staff.

Although the staff do not have a say in the relocation, convincing nearly 900 highly-skilled people living in one of the world’s most cosmopolitan, liberal cities to move just about anywhere else will be an important part of the relocation. The not-easily-replaced staff may vote with their feet not to move, threatening the agency’s ability to function


“Continuity” is the buzzword from other bidders, like Ireland, who insist that consideration of geographical diversity must take continuity into account and that this bid relates not to the opening of a new institution but the relocation of a functioning one .

A letter signed by over 200 of the agency’s staff warns of the threat to LGBT colleagues in members states which do not recognise their rights. Bulgaria, Poland, Slovakia and Romania do not recognise any sort of formal same-sex relationship.

“That conversation has been had” in respect of Ireland, Fanning says. It’s now “off the table” as a concern.

In Brussels no one is putting any money on the outcome. This is a wide open race.