A dispute over money threatens the UK’s attempt to join the EU’s Horizon research program. This is expected to be one the first “wins” from the recent Northern Ireland trade agreement.
UK scientists believe membership in the EUR95.5bn program is vital for investment and research in science. However, Britain has been prevented from joining the scheme since 2021 due to a dispute over post-Brexit Northern Ireland trade.
London and Brussels celebrated a new chapter after the Windsor framework Northern Ireland trade arrangements was completed last week. Readmission to Horizon appeared likely.
The UK however, argues that the annual contribution it makes to the seven-year program should be decreased because of its late entry which has reduced the programme’s return value.
A spokesperson for the UK government stated that “the delays by the EU over two years have had an adverse and lasting effect on UK R&D.” “Discussions about a path forward will need reflect the financial reality we have missed in the last two years of the seven year programme.”
From 2020 onwards, British institutions were members of Horizon and received research grants in the amount of their government’s contribution. After being blocked, UK researchers were able to participate in Horizon-funded projects but not lead them. Their work was funded directly by London.
The terms of the Brexit Trade and Cooperation Agreement determine the UK’s contribution to EU programs such as Horizon.
According to Eurostat, 18% of the EU’s GDP is required to be contributed by the UK under the TCA.
Britain was expected to contribute PS15bn to the seven-year programme. The TCA states that the pro rata fee for any remaining years could reach EUR11bn, equivalent to PS9.7bn, depending on when the UK joins Horizon.
The figure was not confirmed by the UK or the European Commission. However, reducing London’s contribution would require reopening of the TCA. This is something Brussels refuses.
British ministers believe that Brussels should offer Britain a fair financial deal.
Rishi Sunak’s allies have confirmed that he is looking at taking Britain back to Horizon, but he also said he is skeptical about the programme. He has asked George Freeman, science minister, to investigate a Plan B, which is based on global cooperation.
Academics demand to be reintegrated into the programme. The 18 research organizations issued a joint demand to London and Brussels this month, urging them to “swiftly move over the line” and end the impasse.
Vivienne Stern (chief executive of Universities UK), which represents the sector, stated that she was delighted to see talks begin and that she understood that the EU had agreed to make “reasonable adjustments to the UK’s cost.”
Horizon is associated with more than 40 countries. EU diplomats insist that they must be fair to late joiners like New Zealand. To change the payment amount, you will need to reopen TCA. This is not a good idea,” said one.
Negotiations for UK membership in other EU programs such as Copernicus (an earth-monitoring satellite system) and Euratom (the nuclear energy body) will be plagued by similar financial arguments.
According to the commission, “At the EU/UK Partnership Council on March 24, The European Commission and UK government reiterated their determination to fully exploit the potential of TCA and maximize the benefits of the relationship between EU and UK in ways that are beneficial for both sides.”
Talks are expected after Easter, with the goal of reaching an agreement by June.