Deal On UK Return to EU Horizon Science Programme Hanging


UK  (Parliament Politic Magazine) – The UK’s re-entry into the EU’s £85bn Horizon science research program seems to be in jeopardy following London’s decision to withdraw from Euratom, the associated atomic research organization. These delays are causing significant concern within the scientific community.

There was widespread expectation that an agreement to rejoin the program would be announced in early July. However, negotiations are now reaching a critical point with no indication of a final agreement on Euratom or the rebates that the UK seeks to offset its delayed association with the program.

The uncertainty surrounding the UK’s participation in the Horizon science research program has created a sense of unease among scientists. The potential loss of access to vital funding and collaborative opportunities is a cause for great anxiety.

European Union Has Offered UK With Two Options

According to sources cited by Research Professional News, a reputable publication for academics, the European Commission has presented the United Kingdom with two options: either withdraw from Euroatom or accept a financial adjustment, but not both simultaneously.

Vivienne Stern, the esteemed chief executive of Universities UK, a prominent group 

representing vice-chancellors, expressed her belief to the journal that it is reasonable for the government to pursue a favorable agreement. However, she emphasized that the mounting pressure and prolonged delays would come at a tangible cost that nobody can afford.

Stern, who actively observed the initial negotiations in 2020, implored the commission to take a small step towards accommodating the UK’s position. Despite claims made in London last week that the deal was nearing completion, diplomats in Brussels have not yet been briefed on the agreement, indicating that it is still pending final approval.

EU UK Trade And Cooperation Agreement

Stern also seemed to confirm the UK’s stance that the European Commission had failed to acknowledge the significant damage inflicted on the UK during its two-and-a-half-year absence from the seven-year programme.

According to the EU-UK trade and cooperation agreement, British contributions were supposed to be determined by the research funds granted to UK projects starting in 2019. 

However, the UK argued that contributions should be based on success rates in 2023, which would be considerably lower due to the decreased number of applications caused by the uncertainty surrounding membership.

Prior to Brexit, the UK was one of the primary beneficiaries of the Horizon program, and scientists are still eligible to seek funding, which is guaranteed by the UK government.

Uncertainty Lies Over UK Joining EU Research Program

However, the uncertainty surrounding the UK’s membership and its inability to lead pan-EU research while outside the program has had a significant impact. According to data from the European Commission, there has been a substantial decrease in funding for British science programs since 2019. In that year, the UK received €959.3m (£828.8m) in 1,364 grants, compared to only €22.18m in 192 grants so far in 2023.

“There has been a significant loss to the UK as a result of this deal, and it is crucial that we approach this situation with pragmatism and acknowledge the consequences,” stated Stern, emphasizing the risk of everyone standing on principle.

Hopes for a resolution were high when Rishi Sunak and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen met during the recent Nato summit in Vilnius. However, since then, there has been no communication or updates on the progress of the negotiations.

Read More: How the UK’s Delay in Rejoining the EU Funding Scheme is Damaging Scientific Research?

UK Enjoyed Full Membership In Horizon Europe

The United Kingdom had enjoyed full membership in Horizon Europe and had planned to maintain its involvement through an “associate” arrangement, which permits non-EU countries to participate. This agreement was a crucial component of the trade deal finalized in December 2020.

Regrettably, the European Union chose to delay the ratification of the UK’s associate membership, citing the ongoing disagreement over Brexit trading arrangements in Northern Ireland as the reason for this decision.

After reaching a resolution through the new Windsor framework, Von der Leyen assured that re-entry into the program would be expedited. A source from the UK government stated that there is currently no new information and negotiations are ongoing. However, they acknowledged that the alternative Pioneer program suggested by Sunak is a robust option.

Beth Malcolm

Beth Malcolm is Scottish based Journalist at Heriot-Watt University studying French and British Sign Language. She is originally from the north west of England but is living in Edinburgh to complete her studies.