It must have come as a relief for many of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) employees; from March 2019 their new office will be based in Amsterdam. The city was one of the favourite destinations among EMA employees. Flying to their new home takes less than 60 minutes. But how did the Netherlands respond to winning this Brexit treasure?

The way the Netherlands won the EMA was nothing short of a thriller. After three rounds of voting it was a tie; both Milan and Amsterdam received 13 votes. It came down to a raffle, with Amsterdam coming out as the winner. The European Banking Agency (EBA), another Brexit gem, will move to Paris.

For the Dutch pharmaceutical industry, the arrival of the EMA means a big boost. Gerard Schouw, president of the country’s Association for Innovative Drugs calls the EMA: both a pearl and a magnet’ in the Dutch newspaper AD. It is expected that the EMA will attract not only pharma and biotech companies, but also lawyers and consultants who are specialised in this field.

Pharma in Holland

And that’s exactly what this industry needs in the Netherlands. In recent years, pharma companies have left the country, opting to take their business to other European countries instead. Both MSD and Abbott decimated their departments in the Netherlands in 2010, causing more than 1500 job losses. The Dutch market share in the European pharma industry plummeted from 3,3% in 2009 to 1,7% in 2014.

On top of that, the reputation of the pharmaceutical industry in Holland was stained by recent discussions on the reimbursement of expensive orphan drugs. Schouw believes that there may be a few ‘black sheep’, but insists that most pharmaceutical companies work with passion on the development of new drugs.

To improve the reputation and to attract more pharma and biotech companies, several initiatives have been launched in recent years. The ‘Drug Agenda’ (in Dutch: Geneesmiddelen Agenda 2017-2021) for instance, or PharmInvest Holland, backed by the Dutch government. The strategy seems to pay off. Especially the biotech industry is blossoming in the Netherlands since 2012, as can be seen by the growth and popularity of the BioScience Park in Leiden. They currently accommodate 106 biomedical companies. Winning the EMA is the cherry on top.


Dutch bank ING estimates that the 900 highly educated EMA employees have a total disposable income of 45 million euros. Bringing their families – who all need a place to live, shop and play – to Amsterdam could boost the local economy. Housing alone could bring in 10-15 million euros per year, according to ING. On top of this, other supporting business may add additional revenue.

But housing in Amsterdam is a sensitive topic. Prices are rising at top speed, houses in the capital of the Netherlands were 13% more expensive in 2017 compared to the year before, and renting costs are at around €22,28 per square meter. The soaring prices are worrying to resident platform FairCity, who fear that it will lead to gentrification of Amsterdam, and for this reason, are critical of the EMA moving to the city. As Bart Klaar from FairCity phrased it on news site ‘The expats are not going to live in Amsterdam-North or in the Bijlmer [suburbs of Amsterdam], they will look for places in the city centre. It won’t affect the rich inhabitants of Amsterdam, but the poor. Young starters will be driven away from the city.’

What’s next

But while people pop the champagne or worry about the heated housing market, there is one pressing issue: building the actual EMA office. Already in the Amsterdam EMA proposal, it was indicated that the building wouldn’t be ready in time for the EMA move March 2019. In only 14 months, temporary offices need to be ready. The clock is ticking.