European drug agency opposes Amsterdam’s erotic centre plans

EMA says relocation of sex workers to area near its HQ could bring problems associated with red light district

The European drug regulator has said it strongly opposes the creation of a multistorey “erotic centre” near its headquarters in Amsterdam as part of city plans to relocate sex workers away from the historic red-light district.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA), which moved to Amsterdam from London in 2019 after Britain voted to leave the EU, said it was “very concerned” about the project, fearing “nuisance, drug dealing, drunkenness and disorderly behaviour”.

The city aims to close almost half the red light district’s brothel windows, moving their tenants to a new location. Last month, it announced three possible sites, two of which are a 10-minute walk from the EMA building in Amsterdam’s southern business district.

“The agency is taking action at the highest appropriate political and diplomatic level, in full coordination with the European Commission, to ensure a safe working environment for staff and experts,” an EMA spokesperson told the ANP news agency.

Amsterdam’s mayor, Femke Halsema, said there was at least a kilometre between the EMA and both nearby sites. “Police see few safety risks and the sex work will be indoors, without a street audience as in the red light district,” she told the Dutch daily Het Parool.

The proposed erotic centre is expected to house about 100 sex workers and include space for bars, restaurants, nightlife and erotic entertainment. Halsema has previously said she wants it to be a venue “that has some class and distinction”.

Sex work “belongs to Amsterdam and will never go away”, the mayor said in a statement last month. “But the situation in the inner city is unsustainable … due to the stream of tourists who regularly misbehave and cause nuisance.”

The new centre, she said, would relieve pressure on the old red light district and would create “an extraordinary place where sex workers can work safely, legally and undisturbed, and visitors can expect a wide offering of erotica, culture and entertainment”.

However, residents’ groups in all three possible locations have challenged the plans, and the EMA said in its statement it was hard to see how relocating the red light district would not also relocate the problems associated with it.

The agency said it had heard about the plans through the media and had not so far been consulted by city hall, adding that its agreement signed with the Dutch government guaranteed the “security and tranquillity” of EMA premises.

“The EMA’s work is essential for the protection of public health in the European Union,” it said, adding that the agency employed more than 900 staff and welcomed large numbers of international visitors, often late in the evening.

That work “should not be jeopardised because staff and experts fear visiting the agency’s office”, it said. “The EMA is very concerned that [the proposed centre] will create safety, security and nuisance issues.”

As part of its objective of reducing what it calls “nuisance tourism” in the 17th-century centre that has made life a misery for residents, Amsterdam last month announced plans to close bars and restaurants earlier and outlaw smoking cannabis on the street in the red light district.


Jon Henley Europe correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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