UK rejoins Horizon Europe, Swiss await association: A Tale of EU Research Politics

The recent developments in European research politics have seen the UK’s return to the Horizon Europe research program while Switzerland remains on the sidelines. Both countries have faced exclusion from EU research initiatives due to political disagreements, but their paths towards reintegration differ significantly.
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UK’s Return to Horizon Europe

The UK’s inclusion in the €95.5 billion Horizon Europe research program as an associate member marks a significant step forward in European scientific collaboration. This move has been applauded by Maria Leptin, President of the European Research Council (ERC), who emphasizes the importance of having the best scientists participating in research programs. The UK’s return means that scientists in the country can once again access ERC funding without having to relocate abroad. This development is expected to boost competition and the overall value of the ERC.

The UK’s return was a result of lengthy negotiations that included political disputes, but it’s seen as a victory for science. The UK agreed to contribute approximately €2.6 billion per year to participate in Horizon Europe, providing additional funding for ERC applicants.

Switzerland’s Wait for Association

In contrast, Switzerland faces a longer wait for association with Horizon Europe. The country has been excluded due to political disagreements with the EU, and negotiations have not yet begun. The absence of both the UK and Switzerland from the program posed a challenge for the EU, but with the UK’s return, Switzerland now stands alone in its exclusion.

Swiss university leaders expect the earliest possible association to be in 2025 or 2026, with concerns that by then, it might be too late to fully participate in the program. The timeline for Swiss association depends on the speed of broader talks with the EU to establish a new political relationship, which is further complicated by upcoming federal elections and a potential change in the EU Commission’s leadership.

While some remain optimistic about the possibility of association, others worry that the Commission may demand firm high-level political agreements before starting Horizon talks. This could lead to further delays and uncertainty.

Overall, the UK’s return to Horizon Europe is a positive development for European science, showing that political solutions can be found when both sides desire cooperation. However, Switzerland’s path towards association remains uncertain, with challenges arising from political negotiations and potential further delays.

Sources: Science|Business
European Research Council president: UK’s return to Horizon Europe a welcome boost for science | Science|Business
Swiss expect to wait until at least 2025 for association after UK Horizon Europe deal | Science|Business