The UK government has moved for Horizon Europe fee renegotiation as its potential association grows more likely with ongoing Northern Ireland Protocol discussions
With signs of a potential deal being agreed on the Northern Ireland Protocol, many believe UK association with Horizon Europe might be near; however, will the UK insist on Horizon Europe fee renegotiation beforehand?
Having been blocked from the EU’s flagship funding programme since the autumn of 2021, UK association could have a big effect on researchers and innovators across the country.
Following the ongoing Brexit disagreements, the UK was blocked from associating due to a wider disagreement on the Northern Ireland Protocol – a key part of the post-Brexit deal that the UK government has threatened to dismiss.
As hopes for a new deal over the protocol rise, so do the chances of future Horizon association.
Potential Horizon Europe fee renegotiation
Having been blocked from Europe’s €95.5 billion programme, the UK government is thought to want to engage in Horizon Europe fee renegotiation to reflect the fact that it has been shut out for so long.
“If an agreement on the Northern Ireland Protocol is reached, the UK’s financial contribution to the Horizon budget will need to be renegotiated before UK association can be confirmed, to reflect the fact that the UK government has been funding UK participation in the programme over the last two years,” said Peter Mason, who leads global research and innovation policy at Universities UK.
Sources report UK advisors want talks on updated financial details of association to start now, therefore avoiding a lengthy discussion later, which could even tip UK ministers towards rejecting Horizon Europe entirely and launching the UK’s own “Plan B” alternative.
But so far, they say the Commission has refused to engage until a deal is struck on the Northern Ireland Protocol. “Both sides should seek to conclude this renegotiation as swiftly as possible to minimise further delay,” comments Mason.
Both sides should seek to conclude this renegotiation as swiftly as possible to minimise further delay
Renegotiations and excessive payments
For example, the agreement envisaged the administration costs of associating to Horizon Europe rising annually from 0.5% of the UK’s total contribution in 2021 to 3% by 2026.
But from the UK’s perspective, it would be fairer to reset the clock and pay a 0.5% administration fee the year from which it associates.
UK participation in Horizon Europe has also fallen sharply because it has not associated, and the UK might argue it should pay less up front to reflect the fact it is getting less money back. However, what the UK pays in is calculated on the basis of its GDP, not what it gets back, so this could be a difficult ask.
Also unclear is whether the Commission will want the UK to pay a share of Horizon administration costs even for the years when it was not associated, given that UK researchers have still been applying to the programme.
Mending fences and protecting international relationships
There’s hope on the UK side that it will be possible for London and Brussels to iron out these issues and quickly agree on association.
“This is all very solvable,” said Martin Smith, head of the policy lab at the medical research charity Wellcome Trust. “There’s some Horizon details to update two years on, but agreement was found before and can be found again. It’s in everyone’s interests that those discussions on Horizon can happen now so that association can happen promptly once wider political issues are resolved,” he said.
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