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Universities warn EU not to be ‘overly protective’ of its R&D


Leru network calls for tighter definition of strategic interests used to exclude long-time collaborators

A university association has warned the EU not to uniformly exclude countries outside the European Economic Area from the bloc’s sensitive R&D projects, in light of apparent plans to bar long-term collaborators from funding calls for quantum and space technologies in the EU R&D programme, Horizon Europe.

“The European Commission is right to consider carefully with which countries to partner for activities related to EU strategic assets, interests, autonomy or security,” the League of European Research Universities said in a statement on 24 March. But it added: “Nonetheless…countries that are strong research and innovation performers, that share EU values and that have been trustworthy partners for decades should be able to participate in the above mentioned type of activities.”

Leru said that in addition to the non-EU countries in the European Economic Area (EEA)—Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway—it was advocating for “at least” Israel, Switzerland and the UK to be considered “preferred partners” and given the chance to collaborate on projects that might generate competitive economic benefits or entail security considerations.

Barring these countries from such calls would be counter-productive, said Leru, which represents 23 universities including five in the UK and two in Switzerland.

“An overly protective, EU-first attitude in research and innovation will weaken, instead of defend, European research and innovation and hence its competitiveness,” said Leru’s secretary-general, Kurt Deketelaere.

Texts circulating among research organisations that appear to be draft work programmes for Horizon Europe have limited funding calls on quantum and space technologies variously to EU member states, the EU plus the EEA countries, or the EU and EEA countries plus Switzerland, but without Liechtenstein. The Commission has declined to comment on the texts.

Deketelaere said a delay in concluding agreements setting out access rights to Horizon Europe for non-EU countries—caused in part by the late agreement of the EU’s 2021-27 budget and the protracted Brexit negotiations—was “not helpful” and called for the agreements to be swiftly finalised.

Leru also said the grounds under which non-EU countries can be excluded from certain EU R&D funding calls should be more precisely defined, through a note on the relevant legislation developed with stakeholders. Horizon Europe’s rules permit exclusion of non-EU entities from funding calls “related to EU strategic assets, interests, autonomy or security”.

Correction 29/3 – This article was amended to reflect that Leru represents five universities in the UK, not four as previously stated.