Horizon Europe Policy Developments

Horizon Europe Policy Developments

With the UK facing Brexit, its universities face an uncertain future. This blog post outlines the prospects for UK involvement with the next EU research and innovation programme, Horizon Europe.

On June 7 2018 the European Commission published its proposal for the successor to Horizon 2020, Horizon Europe. It set out plans for a more ambitious framework, with a purported budget increase from €77bn to €100bn. The proposal strengthens the decisional power of Third Countries while also relaxing the rules for association, signalling that the Commission wishes for a post-Brexit UK to remain “part of the family”.

The Commission’s proposal is split into two legal texts: the main Regulation, which covers broadly administrative matters, and the Specific Programme, which covers the programme content. Previously, the European Parliament had only a consultative role on the Specific Programme; for the first time, both texts need to be agreed upon by the European Commission, Parliament, and Council.

The European Parliament has appointed two main Rapporteurs from the Industry and Research Committee (ITRE), Dan Nica and Christian Ehler, who have drafted amendments to the Commission’s Regulation and Specific Programme proposals respectively. MEPs and stakeholders were then given the opportunity to respond to Nica and Ehler’s reports, with approximately 3,800 counter-amendments tabled by the September 5th deadline.

Nica and Ehler need to consolidate the tabled amendments into a document of ‘compromise amendments’ to be voted on by the ITRE committee in early November. Meanwhile, the European Council will aim to finalise a ‘Partial General Approach’ in their second Competitiveness Council meeting on the 30th November, ready for the first reading of the trialogues between the Commission, Council, and Parliament to begin in December or January. It is, in theory, possible that an agreement will be arrived at during the first reading; most likely not, though. In that case, it will go to a second reading, and finally, if still no agreement is met, a conciliation procedure.

The European Parliamentary elections begin on the 23rd May. Failing to conclude the trialogues by then would mean the negotiations would likely run until late 2019. President Juncker has stressed that this would result in ‘funding gaps costing jobs’. Similarly, Ehler has pointed to the time-critical nature of cutting-edge research, urging that delays in funding approval would jeopardise the advantages the EU has in fields such as artificial intelligence and quantum research. Everything so far is on track for the May deadline. The driving force of the European Council, the Austrian presidency, has an even stronger ambition of closing the first reading of the trialogues with the major issues solved by the end of January. Such an ambitious target has been widely met with scepticism, some doubting that even the May target is possible.

A potential stumbling block concerns the Specific Programme’s place in the trialogues. A number of Member States have queried Parliament’s new involvement, and the European Council Legal Service has determined that Parliament’s role should be limited to consultation only—as was previously the case. In response, the Commission, which initiated Parliament’s involvement, has stated that it considers it’s legal position in doing so to be “sound and robust”. The disagreement presents a danger that the negotiations will be delayed by a potentially lengthy legal battle.

Both Rapporteurs have agreed that the budget set out by the Commission for Horizon Europe is in need of revision. Firstly, the oft-quoted €100bn translates to somewhere nearer €86.6bn in constant prices after deductions are made for Euratom and InvestEU. Secondly, the budget proposed by the Commission is deemed insufficient given the funding framework’s ambitions. Nica and Ehler both agree that a figure no less than €120bn (in constant prices) will be needed—a figure that has received widespread approval amongst MEPs. Given that the UK won’t be contributing, this represents a substantial increase for the Member States to contribute, and resistance from the Council is expected to be high. Because of this, there is disappointment that a higher figure was not tabled by the Rapporteurs, with room to compromise down; several stakeholders have argued that even the proposed €120bn would be insufficient, the required figure envisaged at being €160bn (constant prices). The signs are that the EU would warmly welcome any additional funding the UK could contribute to the programme, if the Brexit negotiations conclude in such a way as to allow it.

Areas of Disagreement
I will focus on Nica’s amendments relating to the hampering of non-EU participation, as these are most relevant to UK stakeholders. The main issues are:

  • Demands for an ‘EU first’ principle of commercial exploitation

Whereas the Commission wants to promote the participation of Third Country organisations, Nica has included the condition that doing so must be ‘in the Union’s interests’. This is a reoccurring theme throughout Nica’s draft report. He repeatedly calls for the focusing of investments within the EU, stipulating that associations with non-EU countries should favour the EU in terms of the commercial exploitation of results.

  • Requirement of reciprocity from non-EU associations

A reoccurring requirement introduced by Nica was the principle that any cooperative arrangements made between the EU and Third Countries needs to be conditional on EU researchers’ being guaranteed reciprocal access to comparable funding programmes, research results and data, and intellectual property rights.

Concern that the principle of reciprocity will prove too restrictive, resulting in the reduced participation of researchers from Third Countries who are unable or unwilling to offer such guarantees.

  • Limiting the decision-making powers of non-EU countries

The current MFF default regulation is that Associated Countries have no decision making power concerning the programme. The Commission has proposed this restriction to be lifted, but Nica is looking to block the move. He also aims to restrict the autonomy of Third Countries by denying them the right to coordinate actions under the programme. Stakeholders have voiced concern over the loss of autonomy this would mean for UK participants, making participation less attractive post-Brexit.

  • Assessment criteria and eligibility

The benefits of collaboration to research and innovation are well-documented. Nica repeatedly calls for measures that would hamper non-EU involvement. His stance here demonstrates that he sees the purpose of Horizon Europe shifting away from being solely about promoting R&I. This shift is evidenced throughout his report:

  1. Affiliated entities are eligible for funding only if they are established in a Member State or Associated Country.
  2. A participating consortium must include at least three legal entities from three different Member States or EEA countries to qualify for participation.
  3. Third Countries are to be excluded from mono-beneficiary grants, such as those awarded through the European Research Council and Marie-Curie streams.
  4. Prizes may be awarded to Associated Countries but not Third Countries.
  5. Beneficiaries of the European Innovation Council Accelerator fund to be restricted to only Member States or EFTA countries only.
  6. Third Countries may not participate in actions that relate to the EU’s ‘strategic assets, interests, autonomy or security’.

The European Parliament legal service has advised MEPs not to touch upon the subject of Brexit. Nevertheless, although Nica explicitly stated that he had written his amendments to Article 12—the part of the regulation that deals with participation eligibility– with countries like South Korea, Canada, and New Zealand in mind, the implications for a post-Brexit UK are clear: participation would be greatly hindered.

What to expect
The response to Nica’s amendments makes it likely that we will see a much more measured approach taken in his compromise amendments. Christian Ehler, Nica’s shadow rapporteur, has urged that, at a time when other global regions such as China, Russia, and the US (and also, by implication, the UK) are adopting more isolationist stances, the EU should “see our role as the part of the world that is still open”. He thinks the EU should avoid any policies that portray the EU as having a ‘Europe First’ attitude. Similarly, the Guild have warned that it is important to respect academic freedom and avoid politicising the programme, which could result in the loss of interest from the best researchers to participate’. These sentiments are very much representative of the responses at large. If Nica is to get his compromise amendments through, he will have to soften his approach considerably.

Nevertheless, it is unlikely that the paradigm shift from excellence to widening participation will be reversed entirely. Nica is Romanian, and the Commission would have known that he would want to promote the participation of the EU13 countries when they appointed him. His appointment may therefore be seen as a willingness on the part of the Commission to expand the remit of the programme to some extent. Further, the Romanian presidency of the European Council is set to begin in January, coinciding with the trialogues. The president is officially unbiased, but is able to set the agenda in the Council and represents the Member States during the trialogues. The position enables influence, and this will likely play well for Nica’s widening agenda.

Henry Pollock, WRoCAH Doctoral Student

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