Horizon Europe is Europe’s flagship R&D funding programme and, with a budget of EUR 95-billion, is the largest transnational research programme in the world. Despite reaching agreement in December 2020 that the UK would participate in the programme, there have been extended delays to finalising the UK's membership with the issue seemingly caught up in political wrangling over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
On 4 November 2021, increasingly concerned by the delays, University and research associations from across Europe delivered an open letter to the European Commission calling for the immediate finalisation of the UK’s association to Horizon Europe.
Signed by representatives from over 1,000 universities, 56 academies of science, 38 research performing and funding organisations, 33 rectors’ conferences, as well as 120 regional organisations, the letter warns that there will be a major weakening of Europe and the UK’s collective research strength and competitiveness unless decisive action is taken to avoid further delays to the UK’s association.
The letter highlights the impact that the continued delay is having on the UK and European research communities. Explaining that, in reliance on the Trade and Cooperation Agreement reached in December 2020 and subsequent reassurances from the Commission, institutions and businesses from the UK and EU have been working together over the past 10 months. The letter goes on to emphasise that the absence of a clear timeline for finalising UK association is causing increasing concerns and endangering current and future plans for collaboration.
Europe’s previous funding programmes have historically been a significant and important source of funding for the UK research community, which secured EUR 7 billion under Horizon 2020. If Agreement cannot be reached between the UK and the EU then UK researchers will need to look for alternative sources of funding.
In last month’s 2021 spending review the UK announced that it is setting aside £6.9bn to fund Horizon Europe to 2025. However, the review also acknowledges the possibility that the UK will not associate to Horizon Europe, in which case “the funding allocated to Horizon association will go to UK government R&D programmes, including those to support new international partnerships”.