Monday, 2 October 2017

H2020: the Brexit story so far

From the time of the UK referendum until now, the UK government has made five announcements which are important to all involved in Horizon 2020.

12 August 2016
In August 2016, the UK government announced that UK participation in H2020 will continue to be funded after the UK leaves the EU, for proposals selected for funding up to that time. The UK Finance Ministry – the Treasury – said that it would underwrite the payment of such grants. This includes funding for projects scheduled to continue after the UK’s departure from the EU. So this means that UK participants will be funded for all proposals submitted before 29th March 2019 which are selected for funding. Some of the projects funded on this basis are likely to begin as late as the start of 2020 and continue to 2024.

Whether the payments to UK organisations will be made by the EU or UK government remains to be negotiated. But – contrary to the views of some commentators – this will have no effect on UK organisations who are coordinating projects. The model grant agreement has for some years included terms to address the case of coordinators (and beneficiaries) who are not receiving EU funding. These terms were used by Swiss coordinators who were excluded from H2020 funding from 2014 to 2016 except in the “Excellent Science” part of the programme.
17 January 2017
In January 2017, the UK Prime Minister presented her objectives concerning the EU. As usual, the main topics were immigration and access to the single market. But her speech also addressed science and innovation, as one of her twelve objectives. The key paragraph says “We will also welcome agreement to continue to collaborate with our European partners on major science, research and technology initiatives”. An earlier paragraph suggested that the UK would be willing to contribute to the EU budget of some specific European programmes. Together these statements suggest a willingness for the UK to continue to participate in H2020 and its successors after the country’s departure from the EU.

18 July 2017
In July 2017, the UK government’s minister for Universities and Science added detail to the funding guarantee given in August 2016. First, he confirmed that the guarantee of funding covered the years after Brexit for projects funded as a result of proposals submitted before that event. Then he added that the underwriting will also apply, not only to schemes directly administered by the Commission, but also to others that award Horizon 2020 funding. This would include, for example, awards made by Joint Technology Initiatives, Public-public Partnerships, COFUND projects and FET Flagships. It would also include schemes where the application has two stages as long as the first stage application is submitted before the UK leaves the EU.

6 September 2017
In September 2017, the UK government published a document on “Collaboration on science and innovation”, one of 14 papers it has produced to support the Brexit negotiation between the EU and the UK. The paper includes examples of successful research collaboration between the UK and other EU Member States, and of the common problems we all share which would benefit from further research collaboration.
Like the other papers in the series, the one on science lacks concrete detail. But it does state clearly that the UK would like to negotiate continuing participation in the EU’s Research and Innovation Framework Programme, of which H2020 is the current version, after its departure from the EU. The same applies to EU programmes for space, nuclear and defence R&D.
22 September 2017
Also in September, the UK Prime Minister suggested in a speech that, after the UK formally leaves the EU on 29th March 2019, there should be a two year transition period, during which existing EU rules would apply in the UK. This means that existing trade and immigration rules would remain largely unchanged in this period. The Prime Minister also said the UK would honour the financial commitments it made during the period of its membership of the EU. No number was placed on this commitment, but popular rumour is that it would amount to €20 billion over two years. This is similar to two times the UK’s average annual contribution to the EU budget in recent years, minus the amounts UK government receives from the EU for agriculture and regional development.
The Prime Minister also suggested that the UK would like to continue “to take part in those specific policies and programmes which are greatly to the UK and the EU’s joint advantage, such as those that promote science, education and culture – and those that promote our mutual security”, and contribute to the cost of these EU programmes.
UK organisations are guaranteed funding for successful proposals submitted to H2020 before the UK leaves the EU. If a transition period is agreed, the guarantee will run to the end of H2020. And if the UK government and the EU can overcome their differences, UK participation in the successor to H2020 is possible.
Kind regards