UK and EU science rejoice as Horizon Europe and Copernicus standoff is resolved

7 September 2023 | Muriel Cozier

‘If the news of the UK returning to Horizon Europe is true, it will be a welcome boost for UK and EU science.’

After years of uncertainty, the UK’s participation in Horizon Europe and Copernicus has been resolved. A statement from the UK government and the European Commission confirmed that the UK is to associate with the two programmes ‘through a bespoke new agreement’.

The agreement follows a call between the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the UK’s Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, which will see the UK contribute almost €2.6 billion a year, on average, for its participation in both programmes.

This contribution is said to be in line with the terms agreed in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement. UK scientists are now being encouraged to apply for grants and bid to take part in projects under the Horizon programme. Association to both programmes will become effective from 1 January 2024.

The news has come as a relief to the many scientists and organisations that have called on the UK government, which is gearing up for a general election no later than 28 January 2025 – and most likely in 2024 – to resolve the standoff as quickly as possible. However, the political agreement must be approved by European Union Member States before being formally adopted in the EU-UK Specialised Committee on Participation in Union Programmes.

Secretary of State for Science Innovation and Technology; Michelle Donelan said: ‘We have listened to the [UK science] sector, and through hard work and negotiation we have secured an excellent deal for researchers, taxpayers and businesses.’

Welcoming the news, SCI’s CEO Sharon Todd said: ‘The UK should build on today’s announcement by continuing to seek out new relationships and opportunities for collaboration. At SCI we firmly believe that innovation is about collaboration.’ In August, SCI released its Manifesto for Industrial Science and Innovation, which outlined numerous policy recommendations to be adopted by the UK's political parties.

Rt Honourable Greg Clarke MP, Chair of the UK Parliamentary Science, Innovation and Technology Committee added: ‘If the news of the UK returning to Horizon Europe is true, it will be a welcome boost for UK and EU science. UK science always brings a lot to international collaborations. Everyone gains from excellent UK researchers working with others to advance knowledge.’

Chief Executive of UK Research and Innovation Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser said of the agreement: ‘The UK has a long track record of mutually beneficial participation in previous EU schemes and this decision enables us to build on those highly successful collaborations to maximise the opportunities membership of Horizon Europe provides.’

While the UK research and business communities have been pressing for a deal to be finalised, Horizon Europe’s geographical reach has been extended, with New Zealand having signed an agreement to join in July this year. This is part of a wider European Union plan to increase global collaboration.

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