EU researchers slam bloc for blocking UK access to £80bn project – delay ‘hurting science’

Lord Frost gives update on UK’s participation in Horizon Europe

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Launched last year as the successor to the Horizon 2020 programme, Horizon Europe is a seven-year initiative to provide funding for scientific research and innovation. Horizon Europe — which is intended to boost European science spending by 50 percent come 2027 and launched with a budget of around €95.5billion — is open to applications from both within the EU and associated countries. Back in late 2020, alongside signing the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, the UK and the EU reached an agreement in principle that the UK would associate with Horizon Europe after Brexit — but this arrangement has yet to be finalised, more than a year later.

In response to this delay, members of the European research community have set up “Stick to Science”, an online signature campaign whose goals are an open and barrier-free collaboration among Europe’s research and innovation actors.

The delayed progression of association agreements with both the UK and Switzerland, they said, “are being held up by political barriers that have nothing to do with science”.

As the petition asserts, “the signatories request that the European Council, Parliament, Commission, as well as European Union (EU) Member States, and the governments of the UK and Switzerland, recognise that advancement in R&I is best achieved when all actors in science and innovation work together across geographic boundaries.

“This has never been more important than now, as the world faces serious global challenges — e.g., mitigating pandemics, climate change, and addressing food security.

“Allowing political differences to prevent scientific collaboration is contrary to the interests of society at large.”

A spokesperson for Universities UK International said: “The Stick to Science campaign has collected over 5,500 signatures from 76+ countries.”

These, they explained, have included “endorsements from more than 250 leading organisations from the world of science.

“These range from research funders and academies, to university alliances and international research centres.

“The campaign is also supported by 12 Nobel prize winners and 2 field medallists.”

According to Stick to Science, the association of the UK and Switzerland to the Horizon Europe programme has the potential to benefit Europe in return.

They explained: “The financial contribution of associated countries covers the running costs of the programme and funds their respective participation.

“The UK and Switzerland will make the Horizon Europe budget larger and more globally competitive by increasing the pot of €95 billion [£81 billion] by over 18 per cent.

“If not associated to EU programmes, the UK and Switzerland will have to redirect their international collaborations with other parts of the world.”

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According to the campaigners, Horizon Europe had a world-renowned reputation for excellence and it cannot be quickly and cheaply replaced elsewhere without having to compromise on ambition, efficiency and scale.

Implementing new multilateral or bilateral programmes, they said, will end up putting up barriers that stop some of the world’s best researchers from collaborating with each other.

Universities UK International added: “Now, more than ever, it’s important that UK and Swiss scientists are not shut out of Horizon Europe.

“Time is running out, with the delays and uncertainty already hurting science.”

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