Where does the UK sit with respect to European Commission Industrial R&D programmes?

In the run up to Christmas 2020 there was the risk that the UK was heading for the hardest of Brexits.  While the deal secured by the UK Government may not have suited all in industry, it did provide much more certainty, itself a benefit.  Throughout the four year run in to the full Brexit both academia and industry expressed major concerns about research and development and in particular access to the European Commissions Horizon industrial research and development programme post-Brexit.

Several in the specialist press noted that at the eleventh hour access to the Horizon programme was included in the final December deal between London and Brussels; the UK will be able to participate in the new Horizon programme, Horizon Europe.  A closer look reveals that the broad outlines of the UK’s participation in Horizon Europe have been agreed, but there are still many points to be settled with several months of negotiation required to define all the details.

So!  How far have we come?

Principles for the UK’s involvement in Horizon Europe were established in the final agreement in December.  The UK will pay two fees, an operational fee calculated on the basis of the UK’s GDP as a proportion of the EU’s GDP and a participation fee which will be 4% of the operational fee.  The European Union can unilaterally suspend the UK’s membership with 45 days-notice if the UK fails to pay its financial contribution to the programme or if the UK makes substantial changes to the “conditions for entry and residence in the UK of the persons that are involved in the implementation of these programmes and activities, or parts thereof, including students, researchers, trainees or volunteers”.  The reciprocal position is that the UK can suspend participation in the programme at 45 days-notice if the UK’s financial contribution rises by more than 15% or if  the UK is excluded from more than 10% of the programme.

Historically, the UK has been a net beneficiary of the Horizon programme.  The initial Commission position was that the UK could not be a net beneficiary of the programme if they participated post-Brexit.  The accord softens this position.  However, the UK has had to concede on the issue of freedom of movement for scientists, technologists and students engaged in Horizon projects.  A number of wealthier northern European States, such as the Netherlands,  have expressed concern about the rising budget for the Horizon programme, as Europe tries to bring its level of R&D up to American, Korean and Japanese levels as a proportion of GDP.  The UK has in effect set a cap on the Horizon budget if it is to participate, by limiting any increase in its contribution to 15%.

The UK will join Horizon Europe as an “Associate State”, a similar position to Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, Israel and other non-EU states who participate in the Horizon programme.  However, several months of negotiation are anticipated for the establishment of “Associate State” status before the UK joins the Horizon Europe programme which began on January 1st 2021.

Horizon Europe

There are significant differences both in coverage and instruments (funding mechanisms) between Horizon Europe and Horizon 2020. Our next blog will address these differences.

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