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The news we’ve all been waiting for – Horizon association

07 Sep 2023

Daniel Rathbone

Deputy Executive Director

This is the news we’ve all been waiting for, the UK and EU have finally agreed a deal on the UK’s association to Horizon Europe. As our Executive Director said this is a ‘burst of joy’ for the sector.

So far we don’t have all the details of what has been agreed, but just the fact there has been an agreement is overwhelmingly positive. A joint statement from the UK and EU says that UK researchers will be able to fully participate in the Horizon Europe programme on the same terms as researchers from other associated countries, including leading consortia, from the 2024 Work Programmes and onwards – including any 2024 calls opening this year. For calls from the 2023 Work Programmes, the European Commission will continue to administer transitional arrangements and the UK will continue to provide funding under the UK Guarantee.

What wonderful news!

This news will bring a burst of joy to UK science and will provide the foundation for long-lasting economic, health and technological value to the UK.

The many organisations that lead with science and research in the UK, including big business, start-ups, universities and health charities, will be delighted with this news.

With this renewed certainty, scientists and engineers across the UK and Europe can now accelerate their ideas and collaborations, which drive the economy and improves the lives and livelihoods of people everywhere.

Congratulations to all who have worked so hard to secure this deal over the last few years.

Prof Sarah Main
Executive Director, CaSE

It has taken a long time to get here. And during that time, despite welcome interventions such as the UKRI guarantee, UK participation rates have steadily declined. Participation is currently half what it was for the predecessor programme Horizon 2020, and the UK has not been able to lead projects. It is important that the sector, together with the UK Government and European Commission work hard to encourage applications and drive participation rates back up now association is agreed. The first step will be making clear, concrete information about association and how it will work in practice available to institutions and researchers across the UK and EU.

Other areas to look out for in the detail will be how the ‘temporary and automatic mechanism to address any risk of critical underperformance by the UK’ will work in practice and whether this could see the UK reclaim contributions from the EU.

The Government has also decided not to associate to Euratom, so this agreement only covers Horizon Europe and the Copernicus Earth observation programme. The Government says that “in line with the preferences of the UK fusion sector, the UK has decided to pursue a domestic fusion energy strategy instead of associating to the EU’s Euratom programme.”

One other outstanding question is what will happen to any underspend. The Government promised that money allocated in the 2021 spending review would be spent on R&D, whether that was Horizon association or alternatives. Contributions to Horizon will start in 2024 so it is likely that there will still be significant underspend prior to that, despite the UKRI guarantee. £1.6bn was already surrendered to the Treasury and we don’t want to see further money allocated to R&D being handed back.

These are all questions and challenges for the coming weeks and months, for today we should celebrate a real positive step for the R&D sector and the wider UK and EU. This has been the culmination of years of hard work by civil servants and advocates across the sector and they should be congratulated for all their hard work.