UK Rejoins EU’s $100 Billion Science Initiative, Horizon Europe

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In a bid to bolster scientific innovation, the United Kingdom is rejoining the European Union’s colossal $100 billion science-sharing initiative, Horizon Europe, affirming this development over two years after the UK’s exit from the program as an adjunct of Brexit. The British scientific community met this decision with profound relief, interpreting it as a beacon of receding tensions between the EU and the UK, a nation previously woven within the European fabric, only to be unpicked by the Brexit referendum.

Following protracted negotiations, the UK government has announced the country’s return as a “fully associated member” of this prestigious research collaboration body. By this new accord, UK-based scientists are now eligible to compete for Horizon funding from Thursday onwards and can assume leadership roles on research projects under the Horizon banner in 2024. Furthermore, the UK’s Readmittance isn’t limited to Horizon alone; they are also returning to Copernicus, the terrestrial observation entity under the EU’s space program.

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who consented to the agreement in a telephonic conversation with UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, opined, “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.” Earlier, a trade rules contention centered around Northern Ireland, the only region of the UK bordering an EU member, the Republic of Ireland, impeded the UK’s participation in Horizon.

While a resolution was established to abate these tensions in February, the intricate details regarding the UK’s financial commitment to membership prolonged the Horizon negotiations. Sunak presented this agreement as the “right deal for British taxpayers”. As per the EU, the UK will contribute, on average, almost 2.6 billion euros ($2.8 billion) each year for both Copernicus and Horizon. The UK is exempt from paying during the period in which it was suspended from the science-sharing program, which has set aside a staggering 95.5 billion-euro budget ($102 billion) for 2021-27.

It’s vital to note that the lengthy divorce procedure following the UK’s vote to leave the EU in 2016 strained ties between the two. Given the difficulties, a rudimentary trade and cooperation deal was sanctioned in 2020. Relations cooled further under the vehemently pro-Brexit UK PM Boris Johnson. UK’s relationship with Europe was tested further when Johnson tabled a controversial bill permitting unilateral Brexit amendments, which drew sharp criticism from the EU. Following Johnson’s scandal-ridden departure in mid-2022, the Sunak administration discreetly sought to mend the UK’s ties with Europe. Still, the residue of distrust and persisting trade issues serve as a reminder of the recent past.

British scientists, who had anticipated Brexit to present a hurdle to international research collaboration, were elated at the Horizon deal. Paul Nurse, director of the Francis Crick Institute for Biomedical Research, lauded the decision. “This is an essential step in rebuilding and strengthening our global scientific standing,” he states, expressing gratitude to the extensive spectrum of researchers in the UK and Europe who continuously underlined the significance of international scientific collaboration.

While the UK’s opposition Labour Party applauded the accord, they also foresaw a missed opportunity, presenting Britain’s absence from the Horizon initiative as “two years’ worth of innovation” lost. Labour’s science spokesman, Peter Kyle, reflects a poignant reality of global firms selecting nations other than Britain for their research centers due to the UK’s prior absence from Horizon. He describes the situation as, “two years of wasted opportunity for us as a country.”