Scientists renew calls to rejoin EU’s Horizon after UK unveils backup

You are currently viewing Scientists renew calls to rejoin EU’s Horizon after UK unveils backup
<span class="bsf-rt-reading-time"><span class="bsf-rt-display-label" prefix=""></span> <span class="bsf-rt-display-time" reading_time="1"></span> <span class="bsf-rt-display-postfix" postfix="min read"></span></span><!-- .bsf-rt-reading-time -->

The UK’s proposed alternative to the EU’s Horizon research programme has failed to sway support for the bloc’s funding scheme.

Named Pioneer, the programme provides a backup plan in case the UK doesn’t rejoin Horizon. A recent trade agreement for Northern Ireland had opened the door to reentering the EU scheme, but negotiations over Horizon’s terms have stalled. Pioneer will be activated if a deal is not agreed upon.

“We hope our negotiations will be successful, and that is our preference, but it must be on the right terms,” said Michelle Donelan, Britain’s minister for science and technology. “We must ensure we have an ambitious alternative ready to go should we need it and that our businesses and researchers have fed into it.”

The British government has pledged to provide £14.6bn (€16.6bn) for Pioneer — the same amount as it would have paid to associate with Horizon from 2021 to 2027. But critics warn that financial parity will not equate to equal benefits.

The <3 of EU tech

The latest rumblings from the EU tech scene, a story from our wise ol’ founder Boris, and some questionable AI art. It’s free, every week, in your inbox. Sign up now!

“The government must also remember there is more at stake here than money,” said Tony McBride, Director of Policy and Public Affairs at the Institute of Physics. “Should it be needed, any alternative to Horizon must also make up for the loss of the established networks, partnerships, and infrastructure the UK has benefitted from over many, many years, as well as for the disruption and uncertainty caused by these years of delay.”

As well as providing a big funding pot, Horizon spurs collaboration. The €95.5bn scheme invests in projects spanning different institutions across multiple countries. It also provides common rules and funding cycles that foster international partnerships. Any domestic programme would struggle to match the impact of the pan-European ecosystem.

Cancer research, for instance, has benefitted from the program’s networks and frameworks — as well as its grants.

“No one can beat cancer alone, and Horizon Europe offers a ready-made structure for scientists to bid for funding to tackle global problems,” said Dr Owen Jackson, Director of Policy at Cancer Research UK. “UK-based cancer scientists are in a strong position to win funding from Horizon Europe and the EU’s Cancer Mission. But they will be at the margins, rather than at the centre, of these important opportunities if we don’t get association over the line.”

“Many elements of Pioneer would be valuable additions.

In a 50-page prospectus for Pioneer, the British government highlighted the potential advantages of its “Plan B.” Notably, the proposals promise to build on UK strengths and develop new capabilities, while distributing resources and support across the country.

Despite their support for Horizon, many UK-based researchers have welcomed aspects of Pioneer. Yet they emphasise that some proposals could be used alongside the EU programme.

“Many elements of Pioneer would also be valuable additions on top of the opportunities provided by Horizon and current UK programmes,” said Dr Andrew Clark, Executive Director of Programmes at the Royal Academy of Engineering.We hope that the government will seriously consider investing in those aspects of Pioneer once association with Horizon has been confirmed.”

Clark’s sentiment was echoed by Professor Paul Boyle, Chair of the Universities UK Research and Innovation Policy Network.

“This should not be viewed as an either-or scenario,” he said. “Strengthening our links with Europe and beyond through Horizon can sit alongside a roll-out of elements of the Government’s alternative plans, giving the UK the best opportunity to cement our status as a science superpower.”

Clark’s hopes are not forlorn. The agreement on Northern Ireland and the conciliatory gestures in Horizon talks have renewed optimism that a deal will be made. After all, both sides agree on the most important term: associating the UK with Horizon can be mutually beneficial.