What is Horizon? UK rejoins EU science scheme

What is Horizon? UK rejoins EU science scheme

The Government has confirmed that the UK is set to rejoin the EU science research scheme known as Horizon.

Starting from today, scientists and research institutions operating from the UK will be able to apply for funding from the flagship EU scheme.

The UK will also be granted access to the Copernicus project, which uses EU satellites to observe and monitor our planet.

The news has come as a “huge relief” to organisations that relied on funding in order to conduct crucial research and innovation.

Michelle Mitchell, the chief executive of Cancer Research, said: “There will be relief throughout the research community that the uncertainty of the last two-and-a-half years has come to an end.

“Nearly three-quarters of respondents to our survey of cancer researchers cited funding from the EU as important for their work, showing how crucial Horizon Europe association is for the future of cancer research.”

So what does the UK’s membership to Horizon mean and why did we leave in the first place?

What is Horizon?

The UK is expected to return to the EU’s flagship science scheme (David Davies / PA)
The UK is expected to return to the EU’s flagship science scheme (David Davies / PA)

Horizon is the European Union’s £85bn flagship science and research programme. It’s the world’s biggest research project, and it’s designed to help EU member states spearhead innovation in regard to health, climate change, technology, and industry.

As well as supporting research initiatives, Horizon also funds fellowships and the movement of researchers. The programme has also helped Ukrainian researchers gain access to European research infrastructures, and encourages international co-operation in the wider mission of innovation.

More than 14,000 organisations participated in Horizon between 2021 and 2022, and 12 Nobel Prize winners also received support from the project.

Why is the UK rejoining?

When the UK narrowly voted for Brexit, the country stopped being an EU member. This technically meant that they wouldn’t be eligible to take part in Horizon.

At the time, the UK remained in talks with the EU in an attempt to keep its spot in the programme. However, discussions stalled over a disagreement in relation to the Northern Ireland protocol. The UK was excluded from the Horizon project in 2021 and has missed out on two years of scientific funding and collaboration during this time.

Today, it was announced that the UK has secured a “bespoke deal with improved financial terms for the UK’s participation”.

As a result, the UK will become an associate of the programme from January 1, 2024, and be able to use the funding to drive further scientific research.

According to the EU, the UK will contribute almost €2.6 billion (£2.2 bn) per year to maintain access to Horizon Europe and the Copernicus section of the Space programme.

PM Rishi Sunak said: “With a wealth of expertise and experience to bring to the global stage, we have delivered a deal that enables UK scientists to confidently take part in the world’s largest research collaboration programme — Horizon Europe.”

The move has also been welcomed by the scientific community in the UK and overseas.

Professor Paul Stewart, VP of the Academy of Medical Sciences, said: “Today marks a pivotal moment for UK science. After a hiatus, the scientific community is celebrating the tremendous news that we are once more part of the EU’s flagship funding programme.”