10 cities have the best chance of wooing the EMA, but which ones?

8 Aug 2017

Image: timyee/Shutterstock

Dublin has high hopes of attracting the EMA and its hundreds of staff to move to the city, but it has nine other serious contenders.

Following the result of Brexit last year, other EU member states have been working overtime in an effort to woo major industries to make the move from London, and elsewhere in the UK, to their own borders.

From an Irish perspective, a number of global financial institutions have announced their plans in recent months to move a significant number of staff to Dublin from London in order to maintain a base of operations in the EU.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said that by the official exit of the UK from the EU in April 2019, it will have already established itself in another city.

With the deadline for applications having just passed, there are now 23 cities that have formally submitted bids to host the agency, which regulates an industry worth around €260bn annually.

And so, like the Eurovision Song Contest, there can only be one winner, with each of the cities offering reasons why they believe they can cater to the EMA’s list of requirements.

These include ensuring regular international flights to other EU member states as well as access to plentiful accommodation for the hundreds of EMA staff expected to make the move.

The date that the bidding cities are eagerly awaiting will come in November, when a financial decision will be made and the winner will be announced.

But which cities are they? And what individual hope do they have of securing the lucrative move?

With help from a KPMG report that ranked the cities, we took a look at the 10 most likely to stand a chance.


The favourite to win over the deciding panel within the EMA is the Paris bid, which would see the agency make the move to mainland Europe.

What Paris certainly has in its favour is a rich history of being the centre of many breakthroughs and important research in the field of medicine. It continues to do so with acclaimed centres such as the CNRS (the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique), the Pasteur Institute and the Curie Institute.

Paris dominates in pharma product development, with 210 currently in the works, making it the most productive in Europe.

The city also ranks highly as a major international hub for direct flights with more than 2,500 per week as well as almost 500 hotels to cater for conference guests.

However, even with an offer of €1.5m to cover the EMA’s rent for a period, the cost of more than €4,000 per month for an average-sized apartment in the city will be its biggest weakness.


Image: Analoghertz/Shutterstock


One of the top contenders to be the next EMA host, Copenhagen ranks second according to KPMG’s report, just behind Paris by a single point.

Copenhagen is ranked highest for quality of life, and also for research and scientific environment.

In 2015, the Danish life science cluster had a total turnover of 147bn kroner, and approximately 22,000 people are employed in Denmark’s pharmaceutical industry alone.

While Paris appears to be its biggest contender, Copenhagen wins out when it comes to accommodation.

Copenhagen also ranks first out of 109 countries for gender equality and scores a 9.1 out of 10 on the OECD work-life balance index.


Image: javarman/Shutterstock


One of the more likely options, Stockholm’s pharma might is perhaps a little overlooked. Sweden as a whole saw the second-most scientific publications per million inhabitants out of each country on this list, with Stockholm leading that particular charge.

With 29 STEM graduates per 1,000 of its population, Sweden also pours more than 3pc of its GDP into innovation, with the Stockholm-Uppsala region hosting several world-leading academic institutions as well as pharmaceutical and life sciences companies.

Astra AB, AstraZeneca, Pharmacia, Recipharm and Diamyd are among the numerous businesses there, with very few downsides to the city’s bid.

However, there is one problem: Sweden is already host to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, meaning the country could be at a disadvantage in the bidding stakes.


Image: Andrey Shcherbukhin/Shutterstock


One of three German candidates, Munich’s appeal is clear. There are currently 154 life sciences projects in the pipeline for the city, and private companies are pouring fortunes into the space.

Two universities for medicine and science are situated there, which are ranked highly in the Shanghai Index.

With more than 100 life sciences companies, and a non-profit organisation called BioM around to help with business management support, Munich has an awful lot to offer.

The EMA already has a number of partner associations in Munich, including the European Association for the Study of Diabetes and the European Society of Oncology Pharmacy.

Munich is also near the top when standard of living for EMA staff is taken into consideration.


Image: Vlada Photo/Shutterstock


The Netherlands’ bid to become the new home of the EMA comes in carefully crafted video form. The government-issued video showcases the four key pillars of its proposal: continuity, connectivity, commitment and community.

First, it cites similarities with the EMA’s current HQ as a distinct advantage (essentially fish and chips, and monarchy). Then there’s the advantageous flight connections via Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, the promise of millions in investment to support transition and training, and an offer of support to relocating families.

According to KPMG Switzerland’s assessment of Amsterdam’s chances, the Dutch capital is among the six esteemed to be “most capable”, with particularly high scores for quality of life and native R&D.

Overall though, the Netherlands is bottom for number of graduates in science and technology, while the number of life sciences companies located in Amsterdam (51) pales in comparison to contenders such as Berlin (187) and Paris (152).


Ranking just behind Amsterdam in KPMG’s assessment is the buzzing German capital of Berlin. Found to be on equal footing with the Dutch in terms of the quality of life offered, Berlin’s disadvantages appear to be in the R&D environment and the size of its life sciences cluster.

Yes, there are plenty of life sciences companies there, but the number of products in development, sci-tech graduates and scientific publications are only enough to reach the middle of the pack. Like Amsterdam, though, Berlin’s strengths lie in its airport and infrastructure quality – two critical features that EMA staff want from their new base.

Germany is in the favourable position of having two cities in the top 10 bids for EMA, with Bonn coming in strong on the R&D side of things. No doubt the German entries will also benefit from the strength of their sister cities.

Berlin, Germany. Image: hanohiki/Shutterstock

Berlin, Germany. Image: hanohiki/Shutterstock


Lyon is an ideal choice for the new EMA location as it is already home to a wealth of life sciences organisations, including Adocia, Sanofi and Transgene.

According to the KPMG report, it boasts 67 companies in biotech, 18 in medtech and 10 in pharma. The National Agency for the Safety of Medicines is also situated in Lyon.

A 30-minute trip from the airport, the city is very accessible due to an abundance of tram and metro links as well as the TGV service.

KPMG also noted that Lyon ranked 38 out of 230 cities worldwide when it comes the Mercer Quality of Living index. Perhaps more importantly, France as a whole was named the number one country for leisure time and personal care, earning a 9.0 out of a 10 on the OECD work-life balance index.

For these reasons, Lyon offers an alternative to business-centred incentives, with a more human approach to lure the EMA.


Place des Terreaux in Lyon, France. Image: Aurelien Laforet/Shutterstock


Vienna is a hub of research activity for life sciences, with five universities offering facilities that the EMA could benefit from. According to KPMG, it also plays host to 93 life sciences companies, including giants Merck and Eli Lilly.

The city is well connected with local services such as the S-Bahn, and is a mere 20-minute train ride from Vienna International Airport. Its central European location is highly desirable, with KPMG adding that it is connected to nine European capitals, opening up travel opportunities for new residents.

Similar to Lyon, Vienna maintains a high standard of living and is actually ranked number one on the Mercer Quality of Living index, making it a potentially easy sell to EMA employees.

According to The Guardian, citing sources, Vienna’s tap water is said to be of premium quality and the city also claims to be a “significant wine-growing industry”.

EMA, Vienna waits for you.


St Francis of Assisi Church at Mexikoplatz, Vienna, Austria. Image: S.Borisov/Shutterstock


It’s no surprise that Bonn is throwing its hat into the ring. According to KPMG’s report, Bonn comes in almost exactly halfway down the ranks.

One of its best rankings is for political stability and lack of violence, and it also scores pretty highly for its research and scientific environment.

However, its life science cluster is far from ideal in comparison to the other cities.

So why then would Bonn be in the running? Well, its rent is by far the lowest on the list, at just over a quarter of the average rent in Paris.

Bonn, Germany

Image: HeadSpinPhoto/Shutterstock


Despite the Government making one of the most generous offers to the EMA in a bid to woo it here, Dublin remains an outsider, according to analysts.

The city’s biggest asset by some distance is its proximity to London, with Minister for Health Simon Harris, TD, even suggesting that the families of EMA staff could stay in the UK capital during the initial transition.

It also has significant pedigree when it comes to a well-established life sciences sector, with nine of the 10 largest pharma companies having an operation here, not to mention the famously low corporate tax rate.

Not only is it a fellow English-speaking country, the Health Products Regulatory Authority has also proven itself well over the past few years.

What seriously undermines Dublin’s chances, however, is the ongoing housing crisis that sees families struggling to afford spiralling rents, in addition to a poor transport infrastructure in comparison to other European capitals.

Want stories like this and more direct to your inbox? Sign up for Tech Trends, Silicon Republic’s weekly digest of need-to-know tech news.