EU must ‘immediately’ accept UK into Horizon Europe, say bloc’s research leaders

The European Commission must immediately finalise the UK’s involvement in the €95.5 billion Horizon Europe research and innovation programme or else risk a “major weakening” of Europe’s “research strength and competitiveness”, a joint statement by the EU’s research and innovation community has warned. [Copernicus]

The European Commission must immediately finalise the United Kingdom’s involvement in the €95.5 billion Horizon Europe research and innovation programme or else risk a “major weakening” of Europe’s “research strength and competitiveness”, a joint statement by the EU’s research and innovation community has warned.

The statement on Thursday (5 November) signed by over 1,000 universities, 56 academies of science and thousands of the continent’s most distinguished researchers, urged the Commission and President Ursula von der Leyen to finalise the UK’s association to Horizon Europe immediately, warning that keeping the UK out would undermine the programme.

“We are rapidly approaching a crunch point. With the first Horizon Europe grant agreements approaching and new calls soon to be launched, UK association must be finalised without further delay,” read the statement.

It added that “further delays or even non-association would result in a missed opportunity and a major weakening of our collective research strength and competitiveness.”

“The absence of a clear timeline for finalising UK association is now causing increasing concern and uncertainty which risks endangering current and future plans for collaboration. It also sends unhelpful signals to other third countries wishing to associate,” the statement concluded.

The EU provisionally agreed to the UK participating in its new research programmes last December, including the Horizon Europe research fund and the Copernicus Earth observation programme, in return for an estimated £2.1 billion contribution to the programme’s funding.

However, the EU executive’s approval of the UK’s association status has become tied to the outcome of negotiations on the Northern Ireland Protocol, EU Research Commissioner Mariya Gabriel has confirmed.

The implementation of the protocol, which effectively keeps Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market for goods, has been heavily criticised by UK ministers and by a large section of the pro–British Unionist community in Northern Ireland because of the new customs checks and paperwork requirements to transport goods from the UK to Northern Ireland.

“A quick association of the UK to Horizon Europe is vital to continue these close collaborations and to tackle the many societal challenges that lay in front of us. A further delay simply for political reasons is unacceptable,” said Professor Kurt Deketelaere, secretary-general of The League of European Research Universities.

Boris Johnson’s government has allocated £6.9 billion for the UK’s contribution to Horizon Europe until 2025 but says it is working on a contingency plan should the Commission continue to stall.

In the meantime, a number of UK based researchers working on Horizon related projects have gone unpaid because of the block on funds being released.

UK Brexit minister David Frost told UK lawmakers last week that the Commission risks breaching its obligations under the post–Brexit trade agreement if it continues to shut out UK organisations from Horizon Europe.

“Perhaps there will come a point where the value-for-money case [for joining Horizon Europe] looks less compelling than it did at the start of the year,” Frost told lawmakers on the UK parliament’s European Scrutiny Committee.

“We’re not at that point yet, and not close to it, but it could happen if there are endless delays.”

Talks between Frost and Commission Vice President Maros Šefčovič on the protocol are ongoing, although expectations of a compromise remain low.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

Subscribe to our newsletters

Subscribe