Cranes at the construction site of the new headquarters of the European Medicines Agency in Amsterdam, which will be opened in November 2019. Picture: AFP/KOEN VAN WEEL
Cranes at the construction site of the new headquarters of the European Medicines Agency in Amsterdam, which will be opened in November 2019. Picture: AFP/KOEN VAN WEEL

Amsterdam — Dutch officials handed over a pair of clogs and the keys to the European Medicines Agency’s (EMA) temporary base in Amsterdam on Monday as the watchdog prepares to leave London after Brexit.

The regulator’s new €300m headquarters will not be ready until November, so the EMA will be based in stop-gap accommodation for several months after Britain quits the EU on March 29.

EMA executive director Guido Rasi was given a pair of the traditional Dutch wooden shoes by health minister Bruno Bruins in what the Dutch government hailed a “festive moment”.

“The first important step has been achieved and sealed ... and we can start to operate sharply on March 29,” Rasi told AFP at the handover ceremony. “So far, [the move has gone] smoothly; so far, everything is working. It’s painful, it’s hard, there is a lot of additional work ... but it’s going smoothly, I’m satisfied. Today is a good one!”

Based since 1995 in London’s bustling Canary Wharf business district, the EMA evaluates and supervises medicines for human and animal use. But the EU said the agency and its 900 staff had to move to a member country following Britain’s seismic June 2016 vote to leave the bloc.

Amsterdam beat the Italian city of Milan to win the right to host the EMA in a tense tie-break vote in November 2017. France grabbed the London-based European Banking Authority.

The Dutch video for Amsterdam’s victorious EMA candidacy had stressed a continuity with two famed parts of British life, saying that “we also have a very stylish queen, and enjoy fish and chips”.

The Dutch government says that in addition to the economic boost of the staff and their families moving to the country, it also expects the agency to attract some 36,000 business visitors a year. However, the failure of the “Venice of the North” to get the agency’s new home ready in time prompted a legal challenge by Italy as well as concerns by officials and lawmakers.

However, Rasi brushed aside concerns about the temporary offices saying, “As long as they work, it’s good.”

With sweet tax deals and a business-friendly, English-speaking environment, the Netherlands has rolled out the “orange carpet” to win companies and agencies leaving Britain after Brexit.

AFP