The UK could be put alongside rogue states like China when it comes to participating in vital European research – a bizarre threat. The EU executive said Brexit Britain would be treated as any other third country regarding its Horizon research programme in order to keep control of intellectual property owned by member states.
The threat comes despite the UK retaining the right to pay into and participate in the European research programme.
The move has sparked a furious backlash, with 18 member states, plus Switzerland, hitting out.
In a meeting with representatives from the EU27, the Commission was warned by Germany, Spain, Italy, Ireland and Belgium, among others, over the proposal to exclude the UK, led by Commissioner Thierry Breton. France is backing the plans.
One diplomat said: “You can’t just put the UK and Switzerland in the same box as China and Iran.
“If this is what Breton’s idea of strategic autonomy looks like, we’re in for one rough ride. The commission is pulling the rug underneath fruitful collaborations. They need to stay on the carpet.”
EU insiders told EURACTIV the Commission justified its position with the example of the Israeli computer networking firm Mellanox, which has in the past participated in EU funded research only to then be sold to an American company.
A group of academics under the EuroTech Universities Alliance banner has also expressed its concerns over the Commission’s approach.
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In a letter to the EU executive, they wrote: “Cooperation with the aligned countries is vital for the competitiveness of the European Union’s economy.
“The latest proposal by the European Commission to exclude longstanding and trustful partner countries like Switzerland, Israel and the United Kingdom from parts of the research programme is not in the interest of Europe’s research community nor the wider society and could be damaging for the international cooperation.”
They added: “We are deeply concerned that the exclusion of aligned European countries with a long record of cooperation and excellence in research and innovation from parts of the programme will have negative impacts on European institutions and their capability to develop key digital, enabling, and emerging technologies.”
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The Commission’s draft text to exclude third countries from the project reads: “In order to achieve the expected outcomes, and safeguard the Union’s strategic assets, interests, autonomy, or security, namely, participation is limited to legal entities established in Member States, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein.
“Proposals including entities established in countries outside this scope will be ineligible.”
For the UK, which formally left the bloc at the end of last year, the move would see a big downgrade of its role in key EU projects.
But the biggest blow will be suffered by the bloc itself, as EU universities and labs will lose vital partners in Britain, Israel and Switzerland.
Tal David, head of the Israel National Quantum Initiative said: “Friends need to stick together, otherwise you end up alone.”
John Morton, director of University College London’s Quantum Science and Technology Institute, said excluding these countries “would be a particularly disappointing development”.
He warned: “It’s not clear how [barriers] serve the interest of the EU member states.
“It is difficult to see how such measures can increase the expected return on investment to member states in capturing the value of emerging quantum technology.
“Indeed, it seems more likely to achieve the opposite.”