UK can still participate in EU projects, despite Horizon Europe confusion

William Davis – Managing Director, Insight Media

Much has been written about the UK and Horizon Europe and worrying stories abound about how UK universities and companies are not going to be able to participate in the new funding programme, or how they won’t even be able to join our European friends in submitting proposals.

That of course, would be a disaster for UK universities and for many companies like Insight. But fear not – the UK is still very much in the game.

In fairness, the situation is a little confusing – but we should all be sure about one thing. UK universities and companies CAN participate in Horizon Europe projects right now and can be part of any new proposals.

So, how has this confusion arisen and what is being done to reassure nervous project participants across Europe that existing Horizon Europe projects with UK partners can go ahead as planned and that UK companies are still very much permitted to be part of ongoing proposals for new funding?

It all started way back in 2016 with the UK’s Brexit referendum and the surprising “leave” result. At the time, Horizon 2020 was in full flow and many UK companies, like Insight, were involved in EU-funded projects and busy submitting proposals to obtain new funding in answer to all the ongoing calls.

The EU and the UK were quick to reassure everyone involved that existing agreements would be honoured, funding would continue and, if anything untoward should happen, the UK government would step in and guarantee future payments. It was business as usual.

When the full withdrawal agreement came into place in 2020, however, and the UK finally did leave the EU, nerves began to jangle a little more fervently as no specific agreement was in place for Horizon Europe and for the UK to become an associated country. Being an associated country to EU funding programmes enables full participation.

Both the UK government and the European Commission were eager to resolve this uncertainty and, indeed, announcements were quickly made claiming a deal was agreed and pens were at the ready for the papers for UK association to be signed. But that was over a year ago and the agreement papers remain unsigned, with the EU and the UK both claiming they are waiting for the other side.

Despite this frustrating delay, there are official statements that can help clear up this confusion. According to official European statements, the UK and the EU are still in negotiation for association but, until an agreement is in place, “the transitional arrangement set out in the General Annexes to the Horizon Europe Work Programme 2021-2022 is applicable. The UK will participate in all parts of the Horizon Europe programme with the only exception of the EIC Fund (which is part of the EIC Accelerator of Horizon Europe that provides investment through equity or other repayable form).”. That statement was updated on February 2nd, 2022.

In terms of the actual funding mechanisms, things do get a little more complicated until the specific agreement is ironed out, so it’s as well to provide reassurance here, too, which is what Insight has received from Innovate UK, the body coordinating the UK’s participation in EU funding programmes.

As it stands, we have been told, the UK is able to participate fully in Horizon Europe, but until association is agreed, the money UK partners will receive from project budgets in any grant agreement or consortium agreement will be paid, for now, by the UK government.

Specifically, Innovate UK confirmed: “The UK is ready to associate to Horizon Europe, the negotiation is complete, but the final adoption is subject to other political issues.  The UK government hopes to associate imminently and once the UK does associate, we will essentially be treated, for the purposes of Horizon Europe as a Member State (with very few minor exceptions).  Once this is the case, successful UK organisations will receive funding from the EU.

“In the interim, whilst we are waiting to associate, the UK government has put in place a funding guarantee in order for UK organisations who are successful in Horizon Europe to receive funding from the UK rather than the EU.”

So where does that leave companies like Insight, which is involved in the grant preparation for a successful Horizon Europe proposal that won funding? According to Innovate UK, “if the UK has not associated to Horizon Europe when you are due to sign the grant agreement you will participate in the action as an associated partner and will carry out the action tasks as intended to the budget you have submitted

“Associated partners do not sign the grant agreement but are governed by the terms of the consortium agreement. The coordinator should include various clauses from the grant agreement in the consortium agreement which impose certain obligations on you.  This is normal practice and will be made clear to the coordinator by the Commission.”

So, the UK will be participating in Horizon Europe and, while many – including us – will no doubt be yearning for the time when the UK was a fully paid-up member of the EU and these distractions didn’t arise, we should all remember that participation in EU funding programmes has never been particularly straightforward!

This understandable confusion should in no way distract from the enormous potential ongoing collaboration between UK and EU institutions brings for all of us.

Insight has been involved in European project funding since the early days of FP7 and we have enjoyed being full dissemination partners on many, many projects over the years. We are very much looking forward to carrying on this work with our European partners and we are optimistic that whatever happens with negotiations, we can continue doing so for many years to come.

Of course, what we are all really hoping for is for the UK’s association to be agreed quickly and for us all to get back to business as usual – but in the meantime, it’s reassuring to know that the UK can participate fully in Horizon Europe right now.

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