After nearly three years of uncertainty, the UK and the EU have finally reached a pivotal agreement allowing the UK to Associate with Horizon Europe, the European Commission’s (EC) Framework Programme for Research and Innovation. This development marks the end of a challenging period for UK-based researchers who faced restricted access to the scheme due to political disputes.

The formal agreement was finalised in Brussels on the 4th December, with UK secretary of state for science, innovation and technology Michelle Donelan present to witness the occasion. This Association, effective from 1st January 2024, involves the UK contributing approximately €2.43 billion annually to the EU budget for its participation. Donelan emphasised the mutual benefits of this association, highlighting the significant role the UK can play in research and development within Horizon Europe.

The absence of the UK in Horizon Europe previously led to notable restrictions. UK researchers were ineligible for European Research Council grants and faced limitations in coordinating industry collaborations, which form a large part of the program. Consequently, UK participation in the scheme was halved. To support its scientific community during this period, the UK provided equivalent funding domestically.

A key concern now is how quickly UK academics can regain their influential position in Horizon Europe, especially considering their prominent role in its predecessor, Horizon 2020. To facilitate the UKs return and help rebuild its standing in the European research and innovation community, Donelan announced the availability of pump priming grants up to £10,000 for researchers applying to Horizon Europe for the first time. These grants, aimed particularly at younger researchers and newcomers, are intended to help in submitting strong applications. The British Academy, among other bodies, will partner in distributing these grants.

Additionally, a comprehensive publicity campaign is planned to encourage researchers to apply and to ensure widespread awareness of the UK’s association. This initiative was a topic of discussion between Donelan and research commissioner Iliana Ivanova during the Brussels meeting.

However, details regarding the total funding available for these grants are yet to be clarified. Donelan reassured that the specifics will be outlined in due course. As of now, there’s no concrete data indicating an increase in Horizon applications following the September announcement. Despite this, Donelan noted the enthusiasm and eagerness among researchers, scientists, and university vice-chancellors to participate in Horizon Europe, with many already preparing their bids.

With the UK’s association, like other non-EU members, it won’t have voting rights in committees determining Horizon Europe’s work programmes and grant distributions. However, Donelan stressed that the UK will still have a significant voice in shaping the programme.

The UK’s re-entry into Horizon Europe, alongside Canada and New Zealand, leaves Switzerland, South Korea, and Japan as the remaining countries negotiating association with the EC. Ivanova expressed her delight in welcoming the UK back to the Horizon Europe family, delivering on her commitment to integrating non-EU countries into Horizon Europe.