In December 2020, the EU and the UK agreed a deal for UK access to Horizon Europe, alongside other research initiatives such as Euratom and the fusion-energy Joint European Undertaking Iter. But despite the EU-UK trade agreement coming into force this January, UK association has not been finalised.
It appears that political disputes between the UK and the EU, notably on fisheries and Northern Ireland, are affecting the EU’s willingness to open up its research and innovation programme to the UK.
Europe’s research and innovation sector has been vocal in calling on the EU to fulfil its treaty obligations and activate UK association. But in doing so, is it complicit in allowing the UK to cherry-pick, opting for collaboration when it suits and non-compliance at other times?
Both sides have an interest in UK association to Horizon Europe. Past funding from research and innovation programmes, including from the European Research Council, underpins the research that led to the breakthrough BioNTech and Oxford vaccines that have helped both sides of the Channel return to some semblance of normality. Funding from European Framework Programmes has been instrumental in addressing global crises, from the Covid pandemic to the Ebola virus.
Moreover, EU funding has enabled European science to be uniquely collaborative across borders, while funding through the ERC and the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions has made a unique contribution to strengthening our research base. Despite Europe’s relative underinvestment in research and innovation, EU funding instruments have allowed European scientists to hold their share of world-leading publications.
Disrupting this seamless collaboration with partners in the UK and Switzerland—which is also excluded from associate-member status due to problems with wider negotiations with the EU—will undermine the global competitiveness of European science in the EU and beyond.