UK ‘could only join Horizon Europe with transition extension’

Former European Commissioner for trade argues that with UK-EU trade deal in 2020 impossible, research link relies on extra time

二月 21, 2020
Source: Alamy

The UK will only be able to join the European Union’s next research programme if its government seeks an extension to its transition agreement with the bloc, as reaching a wider deal is impossible in a year, according to a former European commissioner.

Karel De Gucht, a former commissioner for trade who is now president of the Institute for European Studies at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), argued that with “level playing field” obligations designed to stop the UK undercutting the EU in fields such as workers’ rights and environmental regulations set to be the “battlefield” in the wider talks, there was no chance of reaching a free trade agreement by the end of 2020.

UK prime minister Boris Johnson has insisted that he will not allow the transition period, scheduled to last until 31 December, to be extended beyond this year. That presents a difficult timescale with regard to the UK’s prospects of joining EU programmes such as Horizon Europe, its next research programme, and the next Erasmus+ student and staff mobility programme, which both start on 1 January 2021. Any extension to the transition would have to be agreed by 1 July.

“If we want to do something with Horizon, with Erasmus, that will have to be on the basis of an extension of the present situation,” Professor De Gucht said. “Because I cannot see that you have anything in place before the end of the year.”

Professor De Gucht, a former deputy prime minister of Belgium, added: “Horizon…Erasmus and others – I can’t see you do it by the end of the year. But if you don’t do it by the end of the year, what’s then the status [on UK membership of the programmes] by the end of the year? Will you and the EU agree on a transition period or not?”

The high degree of complexity in the free trade talks would make agreement by the end of 2020 impossible, argued Professor De Gucht, who was lead negotiator on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the EU’s proposed trade deal with the US. “The whole negotiation on the level playing field provisions is about social rights, it’s about state aid, it’s about competition, it’s about the role of the European Court of Justice,” he added.

Professor De Gucht also criticised the EU for taking too “rigid” an approach to a potential association agreement with the UK, in the drive to prevent the latter from gaining more financially than it contributes.

Proposed EU rules on association state that there will be “an automatic correction of any significant imbalance compared to the amount that entities established in the associated country receive through participation in the programme”.

“I don’t think this is necessarily the best way to do this,” Professor De Gucht said. “Because, first of all, you should look at the quality of the projects.”

On Erasmus+, he said: “I think the essential condition the EU27 will be putting is that, with respect to all the people [involved in] Erasmus, there should be free movement of people. Not only the students, but also the [lecturers]…That probably will be a sticky point.”

Professor De Gucht spoke to Times Higher Education before giving a lecture at the University of Warwick’s Warwick Business School base in The Shard, London. Warwick and VUB are both members of the Eutopia European University network, which has won funding from the EU.

john.morgan@timeshighereducation.com

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