“We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe - and we want to remain committed partners and allies to our friends across the continent.” – Theresa May.
But how will Europe respond to Brexit?
Much uncertainty looms around the impact of Brexit on EU funding practice and specifically Horizon 2020, the largest EU Research and Innovation programme offered to date with nearly €80 billion of funding available over 7 years (2014 to 2020). Since Brexit will take effect in 2019, that will leave one year before the program draws to a close.
Britain applying for Horizon 2020 funding
Horizon 2020 has the political backing of Europe’s leaders and the Members of the European Parliament. This includes Britain, who agreed to invest in this programme. Carlos Moedas, EU commissioner for research and innovation, commented that “until the end of the negotiations, UK remains a member of the EU and therefore with all the rights and obligations, including in relation to research programmes like Horizon 2020.” Therefore, technically Britain and British researchers will have access to Horizon 2020 funding until Brexit. This is crucial considering the top six British universities are leading or in partnership in Horizon 2020 projects amounting to approximately € 500 million.
“Britain may have to pay more than its current contribution to EU programmes to reap its benefits”
Impact for future funding programs
While funding agreements until the end of Horizon 2020 and Britain’s term as a member state will be honoured in full, it is hard to predict the situation beyond this time. As a non-EU (associate) member state, Britain will be able to participate in EU funding but as with Horizon 2020, strict criteria need to be met, such as free movement of people – a crucial basis of Brexit. Furthermore, associated non-member states are expected to contribute to funds based on GDP and population, which, again is a key factor underlying Brexit, with Britain wanting to be financially independent from the EU. Given the circumstances, Britain may have to pay more than its current contribution to EU programmes to reap its benefits and/or accept limited involvement since it will no longer be a net contributor investing into less competitive areas.
But what about Switzerland? Indeed, Switzerland is often used as the poster child for Pro-Brexiters, with respect to interaction between non-EU states and EU funding programmes. While the Swiss have access to the European Free Trade Association, these predominantly cover the same provisions as those adopted by EU member states, including free movement of people and capital. Of note, the EU suspended Switzerland’s associate country status and downgraded it to partial associate due to the Swiss referendum that voted for limiting mass immigration. Based on this, it is likely that Britain will face a similar situation when trying to access the single EU market.
Britain will require a significant increase in domestic contribution towards R&D and a strategy to continue international collaborations, otherwise they risk losing out on being at the forefront of global research. However, nationally funded R&D will likely restrict investment size and cross border collaboration, with increased bureaucracy in multi-national projects since applicants may likely apply separately to respective member states.
“The EU is at risk of losing one of the top-ranking R&D powerhouses”
Britain’s bidirectional EU investment
There is no doubt that Britain’s research and innovation sector has a tremendous stake in European funding. According to the latest statistics, Britain is the 2nd best funded country in Europe for Horizon 2020 SME Instrument, 2nd for the number of topics submitted and 3rd for the number of projects funded. Between 2007 and 2013, Britain contributed nearly € 5.4 billion to EU research projects and received approximately € 8.8 billion back. Britain has invested money into EU funding and has helped propel multinational projects include the Human Brain Project (involving Cambridge, Oxford, King’s College London, Edinburgh and Manchester), PhenoMeNal (Imperial) ADIPOA-2 (Cambridge), to name a few. The strength of the EU’s R&D growth has resided in the freedom to work with EU member countries on ground breaking projects and sharing the money jar. However, Britain and the EU face tumultuous times. The EU is at risk of losing one of the top-ranking R&D powerhouses and decreasing the size of the single market, while Britain’s losses have been highlighted in this discussion. In the interest of R&D, the ultimate hope is for a cordial agreement to be met that enables growth for British SMEs while allowing continued multination collaboration.
Dr Damla Khan, Ph.D.
Research and Innovation Funding Specialist, GAEU Consulting