The UK filed a formal appeal against the exclusion from the EU’s science programs in August – and on Monday called on the bloc to allow it access again.
The British government says that participation in Horizon Europethe EU’s flagship program — which funds research, nuclear regulator Euratom, and the Copernicus Satellite Monitoring Group – was outlined in the post-Brexit trade deal. The UK has since claimed it has been blocked.
The UK’s exit agreement with the EU allows it to participate in Horizon Europe as long as it also contributes to funding for the programme.
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But according to the European Commission, the UK’s status in the program will not be confirmed until the deadlock over the Northern Ireland Protocol is solved.
The protocol is a special agreement that essentially keeps Northern Ireland within the EU’s internal market and customs union, to create a hard border between Northern Ireland – which is part of the UK – and the Republic of Ireland, which is a EU member state.
Politicizing international cooperation
At the UK-EU Parliamentary Partnership Meeting held on Monday and Tuesday, the Minister for Europe, Leo Docherty, said:
“We will all benefit from the UK’s participation and it poses no conceivable disadvantage to the EU or its member states, but the EU has politicized scientific cooperation by linking it to the Northern Ireland Protocol.”
He continued: “Politics getting in the way of scientific collaboration limits human potential and harms everyone.”
While noting that the EU and the UK could do more together, including on research, Maroš Šefčovič, the Vice-President of the European Commission, stated that essential parts of the mutually negotiated and agreed terms are not respected.
This comes after the UK government’s move to pass legislation that could override the Northern Ireland Protocol. The bill reaches its final stages in the House of Lords this week, but has not yet passed into law.
Nevertheless, Šefčovič said the EU is not aiming for “a political victory”, but just “wants to solve the problem”.
“I believe it is possible if there is political will; I am sure we can really settle it in a few weeks because we know these topics from all angles on both sides of our negotiating teams,” he added.
Meanwhile, the UK is not waiting for access to Horizon Europe. According to Doherty: “The UK’s participation would be a clear win-win for the UK and the EU, but the UK can’t wait much longer. The EU’s approach creates unacceptable uncertainty for our research and business communities.”
By the way, Great Britain signed on Thursday a scientific cooperation agreement with Switzerlandwhich has also been kept outside the Horizon programme.
A division in scientific cooperation is bad for Europe as a whole
We spoke to several experts about the impact this separation between scientists from the UK and the European Union could have. Nadeem Gabbani – founder of exotics, a UK-based satellite company — told us that “scientific collaboration is hugely important and beneficial for all involved.” He believes the combination of “some of the best minds in the world” in Europe and the UK could help deliver “new scientific and technological advances”.
As an example of the importance of cross-border collaboration, Gabbani cited the European Space Agency, which has worked with a large number of start-ups and SMEs, both from the UK and the EU.
“We have subsequently, aided by this funding and support, seen benefits such as a 6.7% growth in jobs in the UK aerospace industry and annual turnover rising to £6.5bn by 2021,” he explained.
The Joint European Torus Experimental Nuclear Fusion Reactorbased in the UK and largely funded through Horizon, is another example.
According to David Hammond, Partner at HLK Chemistry & Life Sciences Team, it “embodies” how international cooperation can benefit society as a whole.
But beyond academic research, Hammond notes, Horizon has funded numerous collaborations between UK and EU companies. This program has helped address “real world problems that any company could not solve on its own.”
Collaborations like these not only benefit the EU by leveraging the UK’s scientific community, but also enable companies to thrive and grow themselves, added Hammond.
And if we go a step further and try to look at the big picture, multinational partnerships are key to tackling the most pressing global problems.
A company that does this is M square lasers, a UK-based company specializing in quantum and photonics technology. The CEO – Dr. Graeme Malcom, OBE – told us it is working with “several EU partners to develop systems to support data collection on polluting gases such as CO2 and methane.” This is then used to improve the collective fight against global warming.
Malcom emphasizes the need to put politics aside and resume scientific cooperation between the EU and the UK, adding: “Critically, by advocating for cooperation – rather than competition – we will continue our success in addressing the climate crisis will maximize.”
And this is the key. Stopping scientific collaboration is the kind of petty scoring that has long-term consequences. It is in nobody’s interest to turn something as important as research – which has an impact not only on startups and companies, but also on potential world-saving technologies – into a political tool.
Let’s hope that this issue will be resolved soon and that Europe’s brightest minds will be able to work together again.