New EU R&D programme could be open to post-Brexit UK

Out-Law News | 14 Jun 2018 | 10:13 am | 2 min. read

The UK might be allowed to participate in the EU's science and innovation research funding programme despite leaving the EU.

Plans proposed by the European Commission for Horizon Europe, the successor to the current Horizon 2020 scheme, would allow non-EU 'third countries' to participate fully for the first time.

Horizon Europe would run from 2021 to 2027. The Commission has proposed a €100 billion budget for the scheme, which includes €2.4bn for the Euratom Research and Training Programme.

Expanded third country arrangements would allow non-EU countries, including the UK once it leaves the EU, to participate in Horizon Europe projects provided that there is "a fair balance as regards the contributions and benefits of the third country", according to a draft regulation published by the European Commission as part of the package (57-page / 655KB PDF). The draft regulation also states that third countries would not have "a decisional power" in relation to the programme.

The UK published its own plans for a future "far-reaching science and innovation pact with the EU" late last month. According to the document, the UK is seeking "full association" with Horizon Europe, with "an appropriate level of influence on the shape of the programme" which "should be greater than current non-EU precedents, recognising the quality and breadth of the UK's contribution".

Intellectual property expert Louise Fullwood of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that while "the door has not slammed shut for UK researchers to continue to access EU funds and participate in leading consortia", the proposal "still lacks certainty".

"Continued access to Horizon Europe will only happen if the UK can negotiate three things: a free trade agreement; specific terms for continued access, and a suitable 'pay to play' contribution," she said. "That does not give UK researchers and UK research institutions the kind of assurance of future funding and access to talented staff that they might want.”

Described by the Commission as "the most ambitious research and innovation programme ever", Horizon Europe sets out how the European Commission would like to spend €100 on research and innovation in the next EU budget. About two thirds of Europe's economic growth over the last few decades has been driven by innovation, according to the European Commission, which expects each euro invested by the programme to generate a potential return of up to 11 euro of GDP over 25 years.

As newly-created European Innovation Council (EIC) will be set up as part of the package, to provide a 'one-stop shop' to help high potential and breakthrough technologies come to market. The EIC will help identify and fund fast-moving, high-risk innovations through two new funding streams: one for early-stage projects, and one for development and market deployment.

Horizon Europe will also support new EU-wide research and innovation 'missions', focused on societal challenges and industrial competitiveness. These missions will be co-designed with EU citizens, stakeholders, the European parliament and member states, according to the announcement. The Commission gave examples including the fight against cancer, clean transport and tackling plastic in the oceans.

Member states "lagging behind in their efforts to make the most of their national research and innovation potential" will be entitled to additional support under the new programme; while links with structural and cohesion funding streams and other EU programmes will be increased. As part of this, the Commission intends to reduce the number of 'partnerships' with industry, civil society and third party funding foundations that will be supported though Horizon Europe, "in order to increase their effectiveness and impact in achieving Europe's policy priorities".

The plans are dependent on agreement between the European Commission, parliament and member states on the next long-term budget, as well as on the proposals themselves.