Universities blast ‘EU-first’ plan for sensitive Horizon projects

Joint statement from research-intensive institutions criticises plan to exclude UK and Swiss scholars from grants covering space and quantum computing

April 23, 2021
Brussels, Belgium - April 07, 2020 The Law street at Brussels without any people and car during the confinement period.
Source: iStock

Leading university groups have warned Brussels against barring academics from outside the European Union from participating in Horizon Europe projects covering sensitive areas of research.

Scholars from non-EU associated countries such as the UK, Switzerland and Israel are set to be excluded from some quantum computing and space projects to protect the bloc’s “strategic assets, interests, autonomy, or security”.

And there have been suggestions that the list of EU-only areas could be widened further, with a strategic plan for the seven-year programme indicating that Brussels wanted to protect its “sovereignty” over “strategic technology areas”, security and “critical infrastructures”.

But a statement from groups representing 77 research-intensive universities says associated countries should be able to participate in Horizon Europe on the same basis as member states, “after an agreement was reached in good faith”.

“The role of scientists and researchers in the fight back against the pandemic underlines the benefits of cross-border collaboration, and Horizon Europe will provide the framework for many more successful collaborations,” the statement says.

“Researchers based in all our universities are now ready to seize these opportunities, work together, and submit bids with confidence.”

The statement was signed by the League of European Universities (Leru), the Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities, the UK’s Russell Group, Germany’s U15 and France’s Udice.

Kurt Deketelaere, Leru’s secretary general, said countries such as the UK and Switzerland “have been part of the European Research Area for a long time”.

“Losing them as close collaborators would be a huge loss. An overly protective ‘EU-first’ approach could hamper groundbreaking research and innovation, which is indispensable for improving the daily well-being of European citizens,” Professor Deketelaere said.

Times Higher Education previously reported that about 5 per cent of Horizon Europe projects would exclude researchers from some non-EU countries from certain calls, according to an informal estimate.

A European Commission spokeswoman said discussions on Horizon Europe regulations were “still ongoing”.

“Any limitation will always be done in agreement with member states…and respecting our commitments under bilateral agreements,” she said. “They will be exceptional, kept to the absolutely necessary minimum, and be duly justified.”



Print headline: EU-first Horizon plan blasted as too protective

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Reader's comments (1)

'Our friends in Europe'. Snigger.