‘Win-win’: UK set to return to key EU research programme on 1 January

The United Kingdom will make its return to the European Union’s science research programme, Horizon Europe, on 1 January 2024, both sides confirmed on Monday.


The announcement was made after the political agreement to allow the UK to rejoin Horizon as well as Copernicus, the Earth observation component of the EU’s space programme, was adopted.

To become an associate country, London will have to contribute €2.43 billion per year on average to the EU budget for Horizon Europe, with an additional €154 million for Copernicus.  

“I’m happy to welcome the UK back to the Horizon family. This is a real milestone, a clear win-win for both sides and for global scientific progress,” lliana Ivanova, the European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, said in a statement. 

“Together, we can push further and faster. I have made association of non-EU countries to Horizon Europe my personal priority, and we are delivering,” she added.

Michelle Donelan, the British Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, who was in Brussels on Monday, meanwhile said that “being part of Horizon and Copernicus is a colossal win for the UK’s science, research and business communities, as well as for economic growth and job creation – all part of the long-term decisions the UK Government is taking to secure a brighter future”.

According to the government, the renewed access to Horizon funding should create and support thousands of new jobs.

The deal for the UK to return to both programmes was struck two months ago with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak then touting a “bespoke” agreement that includes “improved financial terms of association.”

The UK stressed for instance that it now has “a new automatic clawback” that would allow it to be compensated should UK scientists receive significantly less money than the UK puts into the programme.

The UK was previously one of the main recipients of EU grants under Horizon and exclusion from the programme —  which has a €95.5 billion envelope to fund research and innovation in science and technology for the 2021-27 period — had led British universities to issue warnings that their academic leadership could be undermined. 

Talks, however, had dragged on as relations between the two sides soured under the leadership of then-premier Boris Johnson. But a breakthrough in February with the Windsor Framework, to resolve the thorny issue of Northern Ireland, led to a resumption of talks.

Vivienne Stern MBE, chief executive of Universities UK, welcomed the adoption of the political agreement, describing it as “a momentous day”.

“This is a win-win. The UK scientific community has a huge contribution to make to the generation of new knowledge as an associated country, and also stands to benefit from the opportunity to work seamlessly with researchers all over the world, in the EU and beyond it,” she added.

Professor Julia Black, President of the British Academy, also cheered the announcement: “From researchers embarking onto the early stages of their career, to cross-disciplinary teams collaborating to tackle key issues, to research bodies and funders like us: we all welcome today’s Association to Horizon Europe.”

“We strongly encourage researchers, businesses and innovators across the broad arc of our disciplines to seek out the opportunities opened up by Association. They carry with them tangible, long-term benefits for people and society,” she added in a statement.

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