UK participation to EU Horizon Programme delayed due to cost talks

Britain complains that it has to pay too much for flagship research project

The UK accused the EU for asking it to pay for Horizon Europe too much, which undermined optimism that Britain would soon join the flagship research program after finally reaching an agreement on post-Brexit trade arrangements for Northern Ireland.

Many UK scientists see the EUR95.5bn scheme for science collaboration as crucial to the country’s innovation and competitiveness. However, British researchers are excluded from the scheme since 2020 because the European Commission has blocked their participation until the Northern Ireland row is resolved.

The diplomatic deadlock has now been broken and the UK tries to renegotiate its “associate member” status in Horizon. This was agreed upon as part of the post-Brexit Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the EU and the UK.

In March, the European Commission announced that the UK wouldn’t have to pay Horizon for the two-year period it was not a part of the program. London was expected to pay around PS15bn for its full-term participation, which is from 2021-2027. Britain has always been one of its biggest beneficiaries.

The UK says that the discount offered for 2021-2022, when Britain was not a part of Horizon is not sufficient to explain the low participation levels by British scientists. Scientists have been reluctant to apply for Horizon-backed projects because of uncertainty about the UK’s future involvement with the scheme.

“We engage constructively with EU regarding association to EU programs and hope that discussions will be successful.” The government stated that UK participation should be fair to UK businesses, researchers and taxpayers.

London wants further reductions to its Horizon contribution as well as assurances from the Commission that it will actively promote British participation.

The EU has been preventing UK scientists from joining their research consortiums since Brexit, despite the fact that Britain pays for scientists to take part in Horizon-funded projects.

The UK’s National Funding Agency for Research and Innovation has awarded grants worth PS882mn up to the end February.

The negotiations over the UK’s readmission to Horizon have been among the most difficult since the Windsor Framework, which facilitated the flow of goods in Northern Ireland, had been agreed on in February. Diplomats claim that discussions on deeper security and defence co-operation and closer ties with the energy sector were more productive.

Horizon-funded research projects include everything from cancer research and climate change adaptation solutions to new space and defense technologies. According to figures from the Commission, funding for Horizon funded 1.5mn collaborations in research during the previous period.

The commission stated that “cooperation in science, technology and innovation is mutually beneficial” but would not comment on the ongoing negotiations. The commission added that “we are working on the UK’s association to certain Union programmes”.

Officials from the UK have warned that negotiations for Britain’s return to Horizon, to Copernicus Earth Observation Programme and Euratom Nuclear Scheme could fail if terms cannot be agreed. Negotiations should be concluded by the end of summer.

The Trade and Cooperation Agreement allows Britain to withdraw if the UK is readmitted, but the participation in programmes drops to a drastically low level.

Universities UK, the sector’s representative, stated: “Full Participation in EU Science Programmes remains the best result for UK Universities and the surest method to protect our status as a global superpower of science. . . The government should make readmission to Horizon a priority. Many valuable projects and jobs are at stake across the country.

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