The UK back to join the Horizon Europe and Copernicus programmes
The United Kingdom is back to join the Horizon Europe programme as of the 1st January 2024. It is the result of a political agreement reached with European Union counterpart. With a more than 95 billion euros budget available to fund research and innovation initiatives, Horizon Europe is the world’s largest research collaboration programme in the world.
Researchers and organisations in the UK will be able to participate in Horizon Europe and its component Copernicus related to Earth Observation on equal terms with their fellows from EU Member States and find funding for frontier research projects, fellowships, break-through innovation and mobility opportunity.
Both sides provisionally agreed on the UK membership by signing the Trade and Cooperation agreement in 2020, which was supposed to govern the future trading and security relationships following London’s decision to withdraw from the EU. UK's association status was though blocked by the stalemate on the Protocol on Northern Ireland, which has been heavily criticised by a large section of the pro–British Unionist community in the Ulster because of the new customs checks and paperwork requirements to transport goods between both sides of the Irish Sea.
So far, scientists affiliated to a UK institution have benefitted from a transitional arrangement, which allowed them to apply and be evaluated as other potential beneficiaries under Horizon Europe calls. However, the subsistence of an association agreement is essential to be eligible for EU funding. Due to this lack, UK entities were in most cases able to continue cooperation within Horizon Europe research consortia but have drawn to other sources to find funding. The new agreement opens to UK researchers the way to access Horizon Europe funding from 2024 work programmes and onwards, and guarantees that London will participate as a fully associated member for the remaining life of the programme to 2027.
The UK will also have access to all the Copernicus programme's products and services. This includes the thematic services for land monitoring, marine environment, atmosphere as well as climate change monitoring. The Copernicus products and services provided will also be extended to cover the UK's territory. For the on-demand services, the UK will be able to access as an authorised user the Copernicus emergency management service. In the security domain, this will depend on the cooperation agreed between the EU and the UK in the relevant areas.
What budget UK can count on
it is estimated that the UK will contribute with almost 2.6 billion euros per year on average for its participation to both Horizon Europe and Copernicus. A mechanism is set to correct allocation of funding if over- or underperformed compared to UK grants is detected.
The UK received guarantees that it won’t have to make more than a 16% net contribution to Horizon Europe, but it will have to start paying the Commission if it receives more than 8% of what it pays out over two successive years.
In case of significant net contribution higher than 12% London can "bring the matter to the joint Specialised Committee on Participation in Union Programmes for consideration and agreement of appropriate measures to balance the situation". If the UK contributes more than the 16% of the grant allocated for projects financed on its land, the mechanism will be activated automatically.
The mechanism could be considered as marred by asymmetry, but before Brexit UK was a big net contributor without having the chance to pick and choose the programme to join and benefitting from a clawback mechanism.
Both sides announced their mutual interest in developing “new and emerging technologies” and that the EU will assess UK access to “strategic” parts of the programme on “equal terms” with other associated countries.
The agreement has to be approved by the 27 EU Member States before being formally adopted in the EU-UK Specialised Committee on Participation in Union Programmes.