UK will return to the EU’s flagship research project “Horizon Europe”

The European Times reported on September 7 that the UK has reached an agreement with the EU to rejoin Horizon Europe, a flagship research program worth 85 billion pounds, a senior EU source said.

The Guardian reported that the UK’s entry into Horizon Europe is part of a post-Brexit trade deal in 2020. The program, whose latest cycle runs from 2021-2027, funds research projects that address key issues such as the climate crisis, terminal illnesses, and improving food and energy security. But its membership was not approved amid a tit-for-tat row between the EU and the UK over Northern Ireland’s exit arrangements.

Carsten Welsch, a physicist at the University of Liverpool, said he had lost his leadership of a £2.6 million research project on a new plasma generator after the UK was excluded from Horizon Europe. “I am very excited by this news because we have been in a dilemma for far too long.” He said. Mike Goldsworthy, of the UK-based European Movement, slammed the government’s long delay in the UK joining Horizon Europe as detrimental to science.

The impasse over how much the UK should pay into the program each year ended this week when an agreement was discussed at the highest levels of the European Commission, the sources said.

Prime Minister Sunak has been insisting for the past five months that the “underperformance clause” agreed in 2020 be recalibrated to guarantee more refunds if the UK fails to receive previous funding levels under the scheme. That said, the UK is expected to pay around £2 billion a year into the programme, with effective refunds if the programme’s grant to UK research programmes does not match the country’s contribution.

EU diplomats have warned that any agreement must be agreed by member states, so a formal return to the program could drag on for some time. The source said EU member states wanted to ensure that the new funding agreement would be within the terms of the trade deal, that there would be no special favors for the UK, and that the new calculation method would be “reasonable” for both sides.

The obstacles to Britain’s return were cleared back in March when London and Brussels resolved a dispute over the Northern Ireland protocol, with European Commission’s Von der Leyen promising a “swift” decision. However, negotiations have since been stalled as UK has demanded additional refunds on the grounds of “years of absence”.

But earlier on the 6th, Sunak gave the strongest hint yet, he said he had approved its officials to finalize the agreement.

Before Brexit, the UK was said to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of Horizon Europe, and scientists were still eligible to apply for research funding underwritten by the UK government. However, uncertainty around membership and the UK’s inability to lead pan-EU research outside the program has dealt a blow to research. Figures from the European Commission show a significant drop in the amount of grant money available for UK science projects since 2019.In 2019, the UK received 1,364 grants totaling €959 million, while in 2023 it has only received 192 grants totaling €22 million so far.