‘A win for innovation across Europe’: UK re-entry into EU Horizon welcomed

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

Image: Getty/Monty Rakusen
Image: Getty/Monty Rakusen

Related tags Innovation Horizon 2020

Researchers have hailed the landmark agreement to allow the UK to re-join the Horizon Europe research programme as an associate member, which will pave the way for pioneering food breakthroughs.

Horizon Europe is the EU’s funding programme for research and innovation projects for the years 2021 to 2027.  The programme has a budget of €95.5 billion. It is the successor to Horizon 2020 and the previous Framework Programmes for Research and Technological Development.

Much of Horizon Europe’s spend has assisted ground-breaking food system innovation. For example, the CLEVERFOOD project that aims to transform the European food system​ into one that is more climate-friendly, that protects nature and biodiversity, and promotes public health was launched earlier this year with €8.1m in funding from the Horizon EU programme. SmartCow, a shared research data platform that aims to improve sustainability in the cattle industry​, is similar backed by the enterprise. There is also the AlgaeProBANOS project, which is looking to leverage the unique properties of algae​ to create new, high-value products and services for a variety of food industry applications.

It also supports the European Innovation Council (EIC), which most recently chose to back a four-year project to make whey protein from CO2 and electricity​.

Associate membership grants UK-based researchers access to all of Horizon Europe’s funding opportunities (estimated at €2.6 billion) except the EIC fund, which is only available to countries participating in the EU’s financial instruments). UK organisations can now apply to participate in and lead projects, ending months of uncertainty about the status of UK research teams.

Commentators have praised the news that the UK is re-entering the fold. “This is definitely a win for both the UK and the EU,”​ said Gareth Williams, Partner at intellectual property law firm Marks & Clerk. UK scientists will have access to the world’s largest collaboration programme, he explained, which will benefit research across Europe.

M&C Parter Graham Burnett-Hall added: “This announcement promises to significantly enhance innovation in the UK. Furthermore, a significant feature of Horizon is the way that it promotes collaboration between research groups in different countries, including EU members and also other associated members such as Norway and Israel. The benefits will therefore be felt by scientists in many countries and, as the research leads to new discoveries and innovative products.”

A ‘landmark moment’

The UK government called the news a ‘landmark moment’ for scientific and space collaboration. “It will further strengthen and deepen links between the scientific communities in the UK and the EU, foster innovation and enable researchers to work together on global challenges from climate to health. The UK Government and the European Commission look forward to enabling collaboration between their researchers in which the UK and the EU share a mutual interest, such as in new and emerging technologies”.

The UK had left Horizon as a result of its departure from the European Union and discussions regarding the UK's future participation in the programme were stalled as a result of disagreements over other aspects of Brexit.

Indeed, the UK had announced plans to set up its own research funding programme if agreement with the EU could not be reached. However, this was widely perceived in the scientific community to be a ‘second best’ option, according to the law experts.

“While the loss of funding to UK research has been to some extent balanced by internal funding from UK Research & Innovation, the loss of collaborative opportunities has been damaging to all parties,”​ said Williams.

“Science and innovation depend on exactly this cross-pollination across borders – it isn’t just about the money. It will be very encouraging to see UK researchers and institutes continue to contribute in this way to some of the key scientific and technical challenges facing us all.”

The University of Oxford, which was awarded the most funding of any UK university under Horizon 2020 which ran from 2014 to 2020, added the news provides further reassurance on European funding and opportunities for collaboration over the next four years.

Professor Irene Tracey, Vice Chancellor of the University of Oxford said: ‘It is terrific to see UK researchers back at the heart of the world’s largest collaborative research programme. Everyone stands to gain from the new Horizon deal, which will facilitate increased opportunities for international collaboration on setting the scientific agenda, powering fresh discoveries and breakthroughs on issues affecting us all, including disease, climate change and AI."

Dr Michael Spence, President & Provost at University College London said: “The announcement s is a cause for celebration on both sides of the channel. Association to Horizon Europe will enable research which makes a positive difference to people’s lives, supporting vital research and innovation networks and strengthening the UK’s position as an attractive destination for talent."

UCL has participated in more than 1,000 EU Framework Programme projects, of which more than 500 (equalling around €380 million) are funded through Horizon 2020. Spence added: "Horizon Europe is the world’s largest research and innovation collaboration programme and provides unrivalled access to funding and collaborative opportunities with the best researchers in universities and companies, not just in Europe but across the world. The UK’s association to the programme will enable international cooperation on shared challenges, while also supporting the quality and impact of UK research, the UK’s attractiveness as a destination for talent and our ability to compete effectively with research powerhouses like China and the US."

Professor Geraint Rees, UCL Vice-Provost, added: “The announcement of Horizon Europe accession is wonderful news for researchers across the UK and throughout Europe, allowing them the opportunity to work together to help solve some of the greatest challenges facing humanity."

Related topics R&D Europe