EU nations scold Commission on plans to exclude UK from research groups

A contingent of EU nations has locked horns with the European Commission over plans to exclude third-countries from involvement in quantum and space research projects, in a move that could see the UK's involvement significantly downgraded due to concerns over intellectual property.

The Commission has draft plans to distance third countries from involvement in certain projects as part of Horizon Europe, the EU's research and innovation programme for 2021-2027. [Shutterstock]

A contingent of EU nations has locked horns with the European Commission over plans to exclude third-countries from involvement in quantum and space research projects, in a move that could see the UK’s involvement significantly downgraded due to concerns over intellectual property.

EURACTIV understands that in a heated meeting last Wednesday between EU member state officials and Commission representatives, Germany spearheaded a campaign against Commission draft plans to distance third countries from involvement in certain projects as part of Horizon Europe, the EU’s research and innovation programme for 2021-2027.

For the UK’s part, this runs counter to the close relationship in research projects envisioned as part of the EU-UK trade and cooperation agreement.

The Commission’s plans for the exclusion of third countries from certain elements of the programme recognise quantum computing as of “global strategic importance” that has “extensive uses in security and dual-use technologies.”

“Therefore, in order to achieve the expected outcomes, and safeguard the Union’s strategic assets, interests, autonomy, or security, namely, participation is limited to legal entities established in Member States, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein. Proposals including entities established in countries outside this scope will be ineligible,” the Commission’s draft text states.

In their opposition to the Commission’s approach, Germany was supported in their efforts by a majority of EU nations, and in the meeting, the EU executive was pressed for clarification on a number of key points, including the question of whether a European company owned by third-country representatives would be able to participate in Horizon Europe projects across the quantum and space fields.

The Commission responded that the third country would not be able to be involved in this scenario, but that clarifications from its side would need to be made on the specifics.

Moreover, during the meeting, EU insiders told EURACTIV that the Commission raised the specific example of the Israeli computer networking firm Mellanox technologies, which has in the past taken part in EU quantum programmes but has now been acquired by an American company.

The EU executive says that this could pose risks with regards to the protection of intellectual property being transferred to other global powers, and that it would not want to see such risks replicated with other third countries.

The EU executive’s moves in this area are being billed as an attempt for the bloc to better achieve a certain strategic and technological autonomy and lessen its dependence on other global powers in the field including the US and China.

However, not many in the research community agree. In a letter penned this week to the Portuguese Presidency of the EU, a wide cross-section of academics under the EuroTech Universities Alliance banner, aired their worry at the EU executive’s moves.

“We are deeply concerned that the exclusion of aligned European countries with a long record of cooperation and excellence in research and innovation from parts of the programme will have negative impacts on European institutions and their capability to develop key digital, enabling, and emerging technologies,” the letter states.

The Commission’s draft plans are set to be discussed further with EU nations in mid-April. At the time of publication the EU executive had not yet responded to EURACTIV’s request for comment.

[Edited by Josie Le Blond]

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