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The UK and EU agreed revised terms of participation in September 2023. This was followed by the formal adoption by the UK and EU of a Protocol on Programmes and activities in which the UK participates (Protocol I) in December 2023. Protocol I provides for UK participation in:

  • Copernicus–one of the EU space programmes, covering earth observation through satellite, land, sea and air surveillance systems.
  • Horizon Europe– the EU’s flagship programme for research and innovation for 2021-2027.

Delay in participation

UK participation in EU programmes had been envisaged when the UK and EU finalised the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) in December 2020, but this needed to be formalised by the adoption of Protocol I by the UK-EU Specialised Committee on Participation in Union Programmes established under the TCA. A draft Protocol published alongside the TCA envisaged the UK participating in four EU programmes.

Adoption of the Protocol was expected by mid-2021 following the EU’s adoption of its long-term budget for 2021-2027 and the legislation for the various programmes that the UK would be participating in. However, the EU then delayed adoption of the Protocol, linking this to the need to resolve differences between the UK and EU over the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement Northern Ireland Protocol. The impasse continued until 2023.

Agreement on revised terms of participation

At the end of February 2023, the UK and EU announced agreement on the Windsor Framework, setting out measures to resolve the differences between the UK and the EU over the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol. The European Commission then indicated it was willing to proceed with work to finalise UK participation in EU programmes, but the UK Government indicated that financial terms of UK membership of the programmes would need to be reviewed to take into account the delay in UK participation and its possible impact on the ability of UK-based researchers to bid for future programme funding.

On 7 September 2023, the UK Government announced that it had reached agreement with the EU on UK participation in Horizon Europe and Copernicus. However, the UK would not participate in the Euratom research and training programme and the European component of the ITER fusion energy programme, as had previously been envisaged when the UK and EU agreed the TCA in December 2020.  The revised terms would also include a new financial mechanism which would compensate the UK if UK researchers receive significantly less money than the UK puts into the programme.

Rules and conditions relating to participation

Part Five of the TCA sets out general rules and conditions for UK participation in EU programmes.  This includes mobility provisions, with the UK and EU obliged to facilitate the entry and residence of persons involved in the implementation of these programmes, including students and researchers.

Governance provisions allow for the participation of UK representatives as observers on relevant committees, but without voting rights. There are also provisions providing for the suspension or termination of UK participation in certain scenarios (for example where the UK breaks conditions of participation or the EU substantially modifies the programmes), and various review mechanisms.

The TCA gives EU bodies the right to conduct reviews and audits of UK persons or entities receiving programme funds, and to carry out inspections to address suspicions of fraud. The Court of Justice of the EU will be able to make rulings which are enforceable in the UK where these are provided for in funding agreements between the European Commission and UK entities.

UK financial contribution

The UK contribution will pay an operational contribution, calculated by applying the ratio (currently around 18%) of the UK’s GDP to that of the EU’s to the EU’s budget for each of the programmes in which the UK participates. There is also a participation fee, rising from 2% to 4% of the operational contribution.

The TCA and Protocol I set out details of an automatic correction mechanism to prevent the UK becoming a significant net financial beneficiary from Horizon Europe. The UK will need to pay an additional contribution to bridge the gap if in any two consecutive years it receives 8% more funding from a relevant programme than what it contributes.

Protocol I also includes the correction mechanism for Horizon Europe, announced in September 2023 to compensate the UK if it becomes a significant net contributor. If in a given year the funding the UK receives from Horizon Europe is 16% or less of what it contributes, then the UK’s future operational contribution will be reduced by the difference.  This is not part of the TCA and was not part of the draft Protocol published in December 2020. It will expire at the end of the Horizon Europe programme in 2027.

Protocol II on access to services

Part Five of the TCA included a provision to enable continued access to the services provided by the EU Satellite Surveillance & Tracking (SST) component of its Space Programme until Protocol II on access to services under EU programmes was adopted. Protocol II was adopted by the Specialised Committee on 4 December 2023 setting out terms and conditions of access. It was largely unchanged from the draft published in December 2020.

The Programmes

Horizon Europe is the EU’s framework programme for research and innovation for 2021-2027, with a budget of €95.5 billion. The UK was amongst the most successful countries in bidding for funding under its predecessor programme, receiving 12.1% (over €7 billion) of total programme funding. This was higher than the UK’s average contribution to the EU budget.

As an associate country, the UK will be able to participate on the same basis as EU Member States, with some limited exceptions. UK association to Horizon Europe was broadly welcomed across the UK research sector. Before association was finalised, the UK Government set out plans for an alternative “Plan B” international funding scheme.

Copernicus is the EU’s earth observation programme. It relies on satellite and in situ data to help monitor and map changes and improve forecasts (for example of the ocean and atmosphere). Association to Copernicus will give UK entities the same rights as EU entities to bid for EU Copernicus contracts and join consortia bids with some limited exceptions.

Protocol I sets out further specific conditions for UK participation in Horizon Europe and Copernicus.

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