UK and Swiss Association to Horizon Europe: Myths and False Assumptions

The importance of Swiss and UK Association to Horizon Europe has been richly underlined by researchers, science organisations and university rectors across Europe in the Stick to Science campaign. But myths about negative effects of Swiss and UK association persist. Here are the key misunderstandings that I have come across – and why I believe they are just that: myths.

  • If the Swiss and UK do not associate, there will be more money for researchers from the EU.

False. The budget of €95bn agreed for Horizon Europe will be spent on applicants in EU member states.  According to the Horizon Europe regulation, every country that associates pays extra . This means that excluding researchers in Swiss and UK institutions from applying for Horizon Europe (including ERC grants) will not increase the money available to researchers from EU countries. But it will make Horizon funding smaller, and therefore less visible globally, to the detriment of European science. With Swiss and UK contributions, the Horizon Europe budget would increase to almost €120bn: the minimum always demanded by Europe's research and innovation community. But we cannot get there without the UK and Switzerland.

  • Participation is too expensive for the UK and Switzerland

In truth, we won’t know until the end of the Horizon Europe programme. In fact, the cost has not been the obstacle for Switzerland’s association, and it has already been agreed between the UK and the EU.

The cost of participation is based on the GDP of an associated country. Because the UK and Switzerland have a high GDP their costs are high – but both are distinguished by extraordinary scientific excellence. There is no reason why Swiss and UK researchers cannot be sufficiently successful to recoup most of the costs – but for this it is critical to minimise uncertainty so that researchers apply!

It is the case that, for associated countries, operational costs and the participation fee are extra to the money spent on the actual research. These costs are not insignificant. However: Developing national schemes to mirror some or all Horizon instruments would be resource intensive and carry permanent administration costs. And developing a one-size-fits all international collaboration scheme with as many nations will be impossible to achieve.

  • Horizon Europe Association should not be about politics, it should be purely about science

The EU’s role in research and innovation is based on the Treaty of the Functioning of the EU, Art. 179-190 TFEU. Horizon Europe is thus integral to what the EU is and does, both from the perspective of the EU – and from the perspective of those countries outside the EU. So I'm not sure politics can be disregarded here. Indeed, the research community has become increasingly vocal in demands, for instance, for greater EU protection of academic freedom. This would be impossible if politics played no role in EU Science and Innovation.

But we do need – in my view – to insist that the political importance of achieving our scientific goals together, across all leading European science nations, is recognised and acted upon by European leaders. Blaming just one side for the impasse is unhelpful in this regard. All sides will gain by Horizon association, and every month’s delay weakens European science.

And we need to learn from what is currently happening, so that this level of uncertainty for science cannot repeat itself in the future. It is important for the EU to develop a different process on deciding on association, so that the UK and Switzerland – and any other countries that wish to associate – can plan long-term. If we were to repeat this kind of uncertainty, these fits-and-starts, every seven years, then this imposes unacceptable costs to Europe’s science community. There must be a better process than this. For all sides.

Published Feb. 14, 2022 2:46 PM - Last modified Feb. 14, 2022 2:46 PM