EMA: Milan pipped at the post

Milan’s bid to host EMA nearly won – but not quite.

Disappointment and frustration swept Milan on the evening of 20 November as the city’s bid to host the EMA – European Medicines Agency – failed by a hair’s breadth.

The contest was held in Brussels to decide where the EMA, currently based in London, would relocate once the United Kingdom withdrew from the EU, a move known as Brexit.

The first ballot put Milan well in the lead, followed by Amsterdam and Copenhagen. The Danish capital was eliminated in the second round, but this left Milan and Amsterdam tied, and a random choice had to be made. The two cities’ names were put into sealed envelopes, and the EU duty president selected one.

Milan, Lombardy and central government leaders took the blow with good grace, but underlined that the failure of the city’s bid was not a criticism of Milan’s qualities, but a quirk of fate. Prime minister Paolo Gentiloni said, “Thank you Milan and thanks to everyone who worked for the EMA bid. It was a solid bid beaten by mere chance. What a bummer!”

Undersecretary for European Affairs Sandro Gozi said, "It's like losing a soccer final by tossing a coin. There’s no political influence that could beat that," while industry minister Carlo Calenda called the decision “bizarre”.

Lombardy Governor Roberto Maroni said, "Drawing lots is sad … there’s great disappointment but also confidence that we had done everything we could to deliver a very competitive bid, as the first two votes showed … We're sorry, because we were really ready" to host the EMA.

Milan mayor Beppe Sala said it was “a bit absurd” to be beaten that way. He admitted that the drawing of lots was a regular procedure, but wondered whether a round of lobbying phone calls might have influenced the first two rounds. Still, Sala insisted, the value of Milan's dossier came out clearly in the first round, when Milan was a strong winner.

And to show good sportsmanship, Sala had city hall tweet: “Congratulations @AmsterdamNL and thanks to everyone who supported #Ema2Milano”.