Commission head urged to smooth UK and Swiss Horizon association

Science leaders beg Ursula von der Leyen to break political impasse

June 23, 2022
Brussels, Belgium - April 19, 2019 The Berlaymont building in the European Quarter houses the headquarters of the European Commission, the executive of the European Union (EU), since 1967.
Source: iStock

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has been urged to unblock the UK and Switzerland’s hopes of associating to the Horizon Europe research programme.

Both nations have historically been key players in European Union science funding frameworks but their applications to join the latest scheme have been stymied by wider political disputes – in the case of the UK, the row over the post-Brexit Northern Ireland protocol.

In a letter to Ms von der Leyen, leaders from both sectors representing the Stick to Science campaign urge her to “use [her] unique role to safeguard vital science collaboration in Europe and worldwide”.

“Throughout your legislature, you have championed the health of those living within and beyond the EU. Please continue to demonstrate this commitment and vision by helping to unblock progress towards UK and Swiss association to Horizon Europe,” the letter says.

“UK and Swiss association to Horizon Europe is currently tied together with broader political issues which, although of grave importance, are not linked to science. As we face the very real and pressing risk that Horizon Europe could continue without two of its most committed partners, we emphasise that research collaboration benefits us all. And, of course, our collective futures will be poorer with less collaboration on science.

“The broad coalition supporting Stick to Science, which brings together industry, philanthropic organisations, charities, research organisations and many others, demonstrates that there will be no political winners if association fails. The European research sector stands united in its agreement that researchers in the UK and Switzerland still have much to offer science in Europe. We must allow them to continue to contribute.”

From the UK, the letter’s signatories are Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust; Sir Adrian Smith, president of the Royal Society; and Steve West, president of Universities UK. Swiss signatories are Michael Hengartner, president of the board at ETH Zurich; Joël Mesot, the institution’s president; and Martin Vetterli, president of École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne.

Vice-chancellors have expressed concern that the UK could abandon its efforts to join Horizon Europe as early as this month, diverting its attention to a substitute domestic programme.

The letter says that research collaboration “stacks the odds in our favour for finding solutions that benefit us all” on major global challenges.

“Political relationships can heal, but the impact of fragmenting research now will continue to be felt in the decades to come. We ask you to intervene urgently on this crucial issue,” the letter concludes.

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