Britain calls for access to EU funding for scientific research

British scientists stick out their tongues. Brexit cut them off from the European Union and its funding. However, a cooperation and trade agreement was signed between the European Union and the United Kingdom on 24 December 2020, with the condition that British scientists and research organizations can still benefit from subsidies provided for in European research programmes. But almost two years after Brexit, the Brussels bureaucracy is taking time, financial support to the former member of the EU is frozen for the moment, we learned from the press release of the Ministry of Higher Education and Research, updated on September 1, 2022.

UK Secretary of State for Europe Leo Docherty appealed for access to EU research programs during the Parliamentary Assembly of the partnership between the Union and Great Britain to prevent this situation and European funds. London will discuss new relations between the continent and the island this Monday and Tuesday.

Because these European funds dedicated to research are sometimes huge. Horizon Europe, the largest to date, was launched in 2021 with a €95.5 billion budget to fund European research between 2021 and 2027. A tempting program that the British are currently deprived of. ” UK participation would be a win-win for the UK and the EU, but the UK cannot afford to wait any longer “, the British Secretary of State for Europe claimed in his speech sent to AFP.

Horizon Europe is a very affordable program

Why is the new country led by Rishi Sunak so attached to European research programs?

First, Horizon Europe showcases the entire funding panel for scientists and research projects through four pillars: €25 billion “Sciences of excellence”, €53.5 billion “Global issues and the competitiveness of European industry”, €13.6 billion “Innovative Europe ” and the cross-cutting pillar dedicated to attracting talent in Europe has been endowed with 2 billion euros. Finally, “Funded activities are very wide. It varies from the simplest post-doctoral research project, where a researcher requires one or two million euros per project, to very structuring work, such as funding consortia of scientists with the cooperation of several dozen European scientists. millions of euros”explains Gallery Guillaume Fusai, Head of European Relations at the National Institute for Health and Medical Research (Inserm).

Thus, between 2014 and 2020, Inserm benefited from Horizon 2020 (the former Horizon Europe programme) with 330 million euros to finance 397 projects involving Inserm teams, including 173 projects coordinated by Inserm. The French organization adds that the new Horizon Europe program (2021-2027) has already financed 62 projects (including 26 coordination) with a budget of 62 million euros.

Next, Horizon Europe finances world-famous projects such as the Euratom nuclear regulator or the Earth observation program via the Copernicus satellite.

Loss of competitiveness for British research

This is a temporary freeze of European funds for the research of British scientists “It causes intolerable uncertainty for our researchers and businesses”, – shouted the British Secretary of State for Europe. Because European programs can sometimes exclude scientists from the search for funding. “The French researcher Barbara Garmy-Susini, who could not find funds for a research project to fight the disease affecting the lymphatic system after cancer, was able to develop a treatment thanks to funding of 3 million euros from Horizon 2020 », enthusiastically cites Inserm as an example. If this researcher had studied in the UK, he might not have been able to fund his research.

At the beginning of the creation of scientific organizations like ORCaSa, sometimes European funding stands. The main objective of this scientific project, launched by the National Institute of Agronomic Research (INRAE) in October 2022, is the establishment of an International Research Consortium that will act as a coordinator for soil carbon and related issues at the global level. . The project was financed by Horizon Europe in the amount of three million euros. “ This European program is currently our only source of funding. Without Horizon Europe, this project would have been more difficult to develop, as Inrae would have had to finance itself. And this funding also offers legitimacy to our project, as it shows that it is important to include the issue of soil protection, which is being scrutinized by the European Union.”confirm Gallery Suzanne Reynders, head of the international land and climate priority program and coordinator of ORCaSa.

Partnerships outside Europe

Lack of funding for British research organizations is already having consequences for research across the Channel. “We are beginning to feel that the British are taking less initiative in projects, but positioning themselves more as simple partners in our projects.”, Guillaume Fusai testifies. AgroParis Tech also confirms Gallery They witnessed the withdrawal of British researchers from scientific projects with which they were partners. The withdrawal of British academics could damage the reputation of universities and researchers across the Channel, as well as the progress of world research, unless the European bureaucracy redoubles its efforts to implement post-Brexit deals.

According to the information obtained by “Science” magazine, in the event of a permanent blockade of European funds to British researchers, the United Kingdom will plan to redistribute the money it should provide as a donor directly to Europe’s Horizon program. national scientific projects.

Above all, the United Kingdom accelerated its search for new partners after the 2016 referendum to leave the European Union, which took effect on January 1, 2020. So in 2018, the government launched UKRI (UK Research and Innovation), “a non-departmental government body funded by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS),” according to its website. In February 2022, it announced a new partnership with e.g Swiss National Science Foundation to promote collaboration between researchers. Across the Channel, official and academic reports are flourishing showing interest in building new partnerships.