Why the European Medicines Agency should not go to Amsterdam

19 November 2017

Why the European Medicines Agency should not go to Amsterdam

Tomorrow the European ministers meet to decide where the European Medicines Agency (EMA), currently to be found in London, should relocate, which it must do as a result of Brexit.  Once again there's a great deal of horse-trading to be done, and behind closed doors, because the negotiations are secret.  It's not only this secrecy, but the content of the likely agreements, which make this from the word go a missed opportunity. The EMA's responsibility is the approval of medicines, a matter of enormous importance to us all.  This is precisely why this Agency should not be hidden away somewhere and in that way handed on a plate to lobbyists from the pharmaceutical industry.  

Foto: Vera Inekci

I have already suggested that as the Agency must move house and come to one of the member states, it should go to Strasbourg. Splendid building, excellent services, all created for the European Parliament, but the Parliament can leave its current location in its turn.  Goodbye to the travelling circus. The Dutch government is annoyed about this travelling circus too, but doesn't above all want to start anything with the French president.  Who knows? He might get cross. Moreover, the French city of Lille is also a candidate, along with our own Amsterdam.  So my proposal has run into a dead end.

But if the Strasbourg option is ruled out, Brussels is the most logical place for Agencies which deal with matters of importance. And the approval of medicines is certainly that. We all want good, affordable medicines. The pharmaceutical industry, however, has other concerns. They want to put new medicines on the market, even if they contain no new active substances – everything for profit – or medicines of which the effectiveness, and the side-effects, have not been properly researched. They will have been researched by the companies themselves, but this is precisely where independent research is badly needed, and that takes time. No wonder that the EMA labour under permanent pressure from the industry.

Brussels is no guarantee of improved monitoring, but because most European Union institutions are established in the city, it's much easier to organise protests and demonstrations there than it would be in another member state. In addition, lobbying watchdogs such as the Corporate Europe Observatory are to be found in Brussels and you can with confidence leave it to them to shine a critical light on the various institutions. That's what we need, not Agencies in every remote corner of the EU, which would only undermine transparency and therefore democracy.

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