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UK rejoins EU's €95.5 billion Horizon research programme

The long-awaited announcement was confirmed on Thursday morning by British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
The long-awaited announcement was confirmed on Thursday morning by British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Copyright Stefan Rousseau/AP
Copyright Stefan Rousseau/AP
By Mared Gwyn Jones
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The United Kingdom is set to rejoin Horizon Europe, the European Union's €95.5 billion science research programme, both sides confirmed on Thursday morning.

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The deal means British scientists can once more benefit from EU funding and collaborate more closely with their European counterparts. It also signals increasingly positive EU-UK diplomatic relations.

"The EU and UK are key strategic partners and allies, and today's agreement proves that point. We will continue to be at the forefront of global science and research," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said in a statement he had secured a "bespoke" agreement including "improved financial terms of association."

The UK is expected to contribute around €2.34 billion per year to participate in Horizon Europe, and a further €154 million for association with Copernicus, the bloc's satellite programme. 

Both sides have agreed on a so-called 'correction mechanism' to cap potential profits or losses. If the UK receives more in grants than it pays in financial contributions, its profits will be capped at 8% over two consecutive years.

But if London gets 12% less out than it pays in, it can ask a UK-EU Specialised Committee to take action. If the loss amounts to 16%, its future financial contributions will be adjusted.

'Right deal for British taxpayers'

An EU official told reporters on Thursday that the UK had secured no discount or rebate. "We are basically operationalising what was agreed in 2020," the official said, despite Prime Minister Rishi Sunak claiming he had secured the "right deal for British taxpayers."

Another EU official confirmed that the UK will have restricted access to parts of the programme considered 'sensitive' to protect the EU's strategic interests, such as quantum and space projects. Other countries including Israel, Switzerland and Norway also face restricted access.

The UK will not rejoin Euratom, the EU's nuclear energy programme.

Continued membership in the research scheme was on the UK's post-Brexit wish list, but it could not be fulfilled due to an ongoing dispute between London and Brussels on arrangements for Northern Ireland.

Talks resumed in February after both sides struck a new deal on post-Brexit arrangements, the Windsor Framework.

The UK was previously one of the main recipients of EU grants under the Horizon programme, which was used to fund key research in science and technology.

British universities had repeatedly warned that failing to secure post-Brexit access to EU research funds could severely undermine the UK’s academic leadership and cause a brain drain.

UK government ministers had been tasked with drawing up an alternative plan, known as Pioneer, in case a deal with the EU on Horizon association was not reached.

Earlier this week, the incoming EU research chief Iliana Ivanova underlined the importance of creating "stronger ties with like-minded countries" by "associating them to Union programs." She has also suggested the UK’s association with the programme could help secure further investments.

Brussels is also currently in negotiations with Switzerland over access to the Horizon scheme.

The political agreement reached on Thursday will need to be approved by the EU's 27 member states before it can be adopted.

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