Brexit deal offers flexibility over UK Horizon Europe repayments

If the UK wins more money from the EU’s flagship research programme it will have to pay it back – but only if the imbalance is structural

January 5, 2021
Deal

The UK will be able to win more money from the European Union’s flagship Horizon Europe research programme than it puts in – at least temporarily – under terms of an agreement hammered out as part of a wider trade and cooperation deal agreed shortly before Christmas.

There was relief for researchers that the UK will continue to be part of the €95.5 billion (£86.2 billion) programme after disputes over the UK contribution threatened to sink British participation entirely.

British negotiators feared putting more money into the scheme − which starts this year and will run until the end of 2027 − than they would get out.

On the other hand, UK researchers have done well out of Horizon Europe’s predecessor, Horizon 2020, by some calculations winning back a greater share of the pot than the UK puts into the EU as a whole.

In the end, though, the two sides have negotiated a deal where the UK will have to pay back the difference only if it wins more than 8 per cent of its contribution two years in a row.

“The UK might get lucky for one year, and you don’t have to pay,” explained Thomas Jorgensen, senior policy coordinator at the European University Association.

The clause is about correcting a “structural imbalance” if it arises, he said. “It’s not pay as you go; it’s not counting every penny,” he added. “It’s quite soft.”

However, there is no sign in the agreement of a previously mooted correction mechanism the other way – if the UK pays in more than its researchers win, there will be no way to claim this back.

Instead, the UK does have the right to unilaterally pull out in the unlikely event that Horizon Europe’s budget balloons by more than 15 per cent over the course of the programme.

With the broad principles agreed, scientists have urged both sides to agree on the specifics of association to Horizon Europe as soon as possible so that UK researchers can join the programme.

“We can now expect this Horizon Europe agreement to be negotiated within the year 2021, hopefully shorter, after the approval of which, UK researchers will be able again to participate in the framework programme,” said Kurt Deketelaere, secretary general of the League of European Research Universities.

Although the details are yet to be finalised, university lobbyists have breathed a long sigh of relief that Horizon Europe made it into the Brexit deal at all, ending years of uncertainty, although the UK will be excluded from elements of the new European Innovation Council, which is focused on bringing innovations to market.

david.matthews@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Fare’s fair: Brexit deal offers flexibility over UK Horizon Europe repayments

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