The UK government has confirmed that it will obey “relevant” rulings by the European Court of Justice if it continues to participate in European Union research projects.
The Westminster government’s opposition to remaining under the jurisdiction of the ECJ had been seen as a major obstacle to the UK becoming an associate member of the next framework programme, Horizon Europe, since the court settles disputes in relation to grants or within consortia.
However, a paper published by the Department for Exiting the European Union appears to settle the issue. It says: “The UK will respect the remit of the ECJ, where relevant, where we participate in EU programmes.”
The statement follows a speech by Theresa May on 21 May in which the prime minister said that the UK would like the “option” to be an associate member of Horizon Europe. The UK would be willing to pay into the programme in return for a significant stake in its design, she added.
Sarah Main, executive director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, said clarification on the role of the ECJ would be “welcome”.
“It will prompt a sigh of relief among the science community as many of the uncertainties that have begun to bite are addressed with purposefulness and enthusiasm,” she said.
In a speech in March, Ms May did not rule out having to comply with ECJ rulings if the UK should “continue to participate in an EU agency”.
Thomas Jørgensen, senior policy coordinator at the European University Association, said that the clear recognition of the ECJ’s role was “big news, and a sensible move”. The larger issue now, he said, would concern how much influence the UK would be allowed, as associate members typically did not have input into the design of such programmes. “But,” he continued, “I do not believe [there will be] any red lines, just things that require negotiation.”
The DExEU document says that a UK-EU science and innovation pact “would need to manage access to programmes and infrastructure, underpinned by wider agreements and arrangements on issues including data sharing and protection, researcher mobility and intellectual property”.
Negotiations regarding science should not be delayed, the paper states, adding: “We should not wait where we do not need to.”
Addressing EU negotiators directly, DExEU concludes: “We are looking to discuss the detail of the future partnership, and will work with you as you design the shape of the future programmes.”