Friday, 11 February 2022 14:42

Scientists repeat demands for confirmation of UK’s Horizon status

Hundreds of researchers and organisations across Europe have repeated their demands for the EU to quickly confirm the association status of the UK to Horizon Europe, the EU’s research and innovation programme.

The ‘Stick to Science’ campaign, launched earlier this week, has warned that keeping the UK out of the programme would amount to ‘collective punishment’.

Last December, the EU agreed to the UK participating in the Horizon Europe research fund and the Copernicus earth and space observation programme, in return for a contribution to the programme’s funding.

However, the European Commission stated that the UK’s status in the Horizon and Copernicus programmes will not be confirmed until the long-running impasse over the Northern Ireland protocol is resolved.

UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič have set an unofficial deadline of the end of February for reaching an agreement and held the latest round of face-to-face talks in London on Friday.

Antoine Petit, chair and chief executive of the French state research organisation CNRS, said that excluding UK and Swiss research projects from Horizon was ‘a punishment for all of us. It’s a punishment for Europe … a sado-masochistic decision.’

He added that ‘fragmenting the scientific community, in the context of larger challenges such as [the] health crisis or global warming does not make sense’.

UK ministers have established domestic programmes to channel research funding, and have warned that their patience with the European Commission is running thin.

The newly established Advanced Research and Invention Agency and Innovate UK agency have been promised £800 million and £1.1 billion in funding respectively, but giving them the financial contribution intended for Horizon would not change the UK’s lost access to joint projects.

The UK’s universities and research institutes should have been among the main beneficiaries from the EU’s €95.5 billion Horizon Europe research and innovation programme.

However, the Nuffield Trust, a health care policy think tank, has estimated in a new report that the UK’s share of Horizon Europe funding in health and biotech themes associated with life sciences already fell by 40% in the four years after the referendum in June 2016 that saw the UK decide to leave the EU.

Lord Kinnoull, the chair of the House of Lords European Affairs Committee, which is conducting its own inquiry into the impasse, earlier this month described the situation as “a mutual self-harm problem. And that’s not good for something very precious, which is European scientific research.”

“Last week we had two British academics and a European academic in front of us and there was a great clarity from all of them about how this was harmful to European science. Collaborative projects are much more than just a cheque,” he added.