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EU refuses extra cash for agency facing staff exodus because of Brexit move

Luke James
Brussels correspondent
The entrance to the current European Medicines Agency building in Canary Wharf, London (Getty)

The EU’s Brexit preparations have been hit by a row over emergency funding for one of its agencies relocating from London.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA), which currently employs more than 900 people in Canary Wharf, will move to Amsterdam when Britain leaves the EU next March.

EMA managers have called on the European Commission to pay for an extra 40 temporary staff to help with a transition which could see close to half of current employees leaving.

But their request has been turned down to the dismay of MEPs, who warn the decision could have consequences for public health.

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Minutes of the EMA’s latest management board meeting in June state that “staff loss is worsening dramatically” as the date of the move approaches.

The “best case scenario” is a 17% loss of staff but the the EMA say its “likely” that 44% will go, according to an update given to the meeting on the agency’s Brexit contingency plan.

Without the additional 40 staff, the EMA has warned it would become “very challenging” to implement new EU legislation.

European Medicines Agency executive director Guido Rasi at the organisation’s current headquarters in Canary Wharf (Getty)

EMA executive director professor Guido Rasi argues the cost of the new recruits would be budget neutral because of the exodus of existing staff.

And a cross-party group of four MEPs on the European parliament’s environment, public health and food safety committee have backed his call for more funding.

In a written question to the European Commission about the situation, the MEPs state: “The EMA is essential to the functioning of the single market for medicines in the EU and it would be regrettable if the agency were forced to implement further cuts in its activities with an important public health impact due to having insufficient staff.

They asked: “What measures is the Commission taking to address the staffing concerns of the EMA’s Management Board and to help the Agency resume functioning in full after its relocation?”

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Vytenis Andriukaitis, the EU’s commissioner for health and food safety, has now replied to the MEPs to confirm that the EMA will not receive the extra support requested.

“The request and information provided by EMA were judged as not being sufficiently documented to support such an increase in staff, even for a temporary period, taking into account also the relatively large size of the agency,” his answer states.

“It should be noted that any requests for staff increase need to be very well substantiated via the budgetary procedure. The Commission remains in close contact with the Agency as regards the departure of key staff and its impact on the capacity of EMA to deliver on its high priority activities.”

EU health and food safety commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis (Getty)

The EMA expect they could be granted funding for as few as four new staff members.

The decision has seen the commission accused of “putting budgetary considerations ahead of long-term consequences” by a patients’ organisation represented on the EMA’s management board.

The EMA has said it may now call an extraordinary meeting to discuss the situation.

A vote of EU member states was held in November to decide where to relocate the EMA after Brexit. The final decision was made by drawing lots after Amsterdam was tied with Milan.

Staff will move to a temporary building by 30 March and relocate to a new permanent HQ by the end of next year.

The European Banking Authority, which employs around 150 people, is also relocating from Canary Wharf in London to Paris because of Brexit.

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