SWOT Analysis of the Barcelona Bid for the European Medicines Agency

As inducements go, few are as tempting as the Torre Agbar in Barcelona.  The iconic Catalan skyscraper has been offered to the European Medicines Agency should they wish to choose Barcelona as their next home.

Until recently, the Spanish city had been noticeably quieter than most in its bid to host the European Medicines Agency.  However, in a campaign launched on April 21st by the government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy there was an offer to host the agency at Torre Agbar.

Catalonia, a political thorn in the Spanish body politic, has a positive reputation for life sciences.  23% of Spain’s scientists live in Catalonia and there is a high concentration of pharma companies in the region. BioCat is the organisation tasked with promoting, developing and commercialising the Catalonian life science sector.  They claim to represent 871 companies, 14 science and technology parks and 12 universities in the region.  The cluster focused organisation also highlights the strength of the Catalonian life sciences sector by stating that it has a catchment area comparable to EU countries such as Finland, Belgium, the Netherlands and Israel.


Spain’s pitch is impressive.  In a survey of European Medicines Agency staff Barcelona was the location that topped the poll.  Catalan Minister for Health Toni Comin says that locating the agency in Barcelona is the only way to ensure the ‘essence of the organisation’.  Residents of the city enjoy a lower cost of living than other comparable European counterparts and it has an excellent educational and transportation infrastructure.


The Spanish economy has had a well publicised tempestuous time of late, although other economies have suffered also.  The government’s willingness to cut the deficit, reform the banking system and the labour market is admirable but the stability of the economy is of concern to many. Again, as we referenced in other posts, the issue of ‘Who Will Pay?’ hangs over the decision.  Could an economy, so recently beset by exceptional difficulties, be in a position to pay almost half a billion euro in order to secure the European Medicines Agency?

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The Catalan region does have a robust pharmaceutical sector. It hosts the global headquarters of 34 life science companies. As referenced above, BioCat is a significant asset to the region and it has played a major role in developing the sector in Catalonia.  Hosting the agency might prove useful in attracting new foreign direct investment in the sector and better positioning Spain as a life sciences hub.


The consistent drum-beat for Catalan independence is a significant threat to the Barcelona bid. Recent activities from the pro-independence side will do very little to help the bid to host the European Medicines Agency.  After all, were Catalonia to succeed in gaining independence having previously secured the European Medicines Agency, then the agency would be faced with having to find yet another host venue.  As a result, it is hard to see how Barcelona could feasibly host the agency with the cloud of independence hanging over the region.   Those who regard the chances of this happening need only think back to the odds being offered on Brexit or a Trump presidency twelve or twenty four months ago.

Barcelona’s quality of life and cost of living is, undoubtedly, an attractive proposition for those who might be moving there.  However, the independence demands are sure to adversely impact on its attractiveness as the new permanent home of the European Medicines Agency. Politicians in the region have embarked on a ‘charm offensive’ in an effort to seek assurances regarding EU membership post independence, however this will not rest easy with those tasked with making the decision on where to base the European Medicines Agency.

Have you read our SWOT analysis of Dublin or Copenhagen?  You can read them by clicking the links.

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