EU column: How the EU is endangering Europe as a research location
The EU has discovered geopolitics in recent months. The commissioners like to invoke the continent’s “strategic autonomy” and “technological sovereignty”. People want to become more independent and play a leading role, especially in future technologies.
It’s just stupid that the EU keeps tripping over itself in the race with the USA and China. The best example is the European research program “Horizon Europe”. With a budget of 95 billion euros over seven years, it is the most important and prestigious funding program for European scientists. The grants of the European Research Council (ERC) are considered accolades for researchers and have produced countless innovations.
Using the international QS rankings as a benchmark, the best European universities are in Great Britain and Switzerland. Five universities from these two countries are represented in the top ten:
- Imperial College
- University College London
- Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH)
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This dominance continues in the Global Innovation Index, where Switzerland is number one and the United Kingdom is number four.
Despite this undisputed scientific excellence, both countries are currently excluded from Horizon Europe. The reason: They are considered difficult neighbors. London wants to terminate the Northern Ireland protocol, Bern refuses a framework agreement with Brussels. The EU is therefore openly using its research program as a means of pressure to make the two compliant.
Scientists across Europe are appalled. In a recent open letter, the Stick to Science campaign called on Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to separate access to Horizon Europe from broader policy issues. “Research is being held hostage in the negotiations,” complains Maryline Maillard from ETH Zurich. If the Commission erected such artificial barriers, the European research landscape as a whole would be weakened.
Excluding two tech nations is negligent
The researchers are still waiting for an answer. As usual, the Commission argues that there is no such thing as an EU à la carte. The statement is not very convincing when you look at who else has access to the research program. These include Albania and Tunisia, i.e. countries that have not yet attracted attention with activities worthy of a Nobel Prize. Against this background, the exclusion of the two tech nations Great Britain and Switzerland seems even more negligent.
The argument that the stubborn neighbors shouldn’t be rewarded with EU funds doesn’t really hold up either. Because both would pay for their association themselves – with a total of more than 20 billion euros.
If the EU is serious about its claim to technology leadership in the world, it should lift its sanctions against Great Britain and Switzerland as soon as possible. Because the Europe-wide networks that have developed thanks to Horizon Europe are too important to jeopardize in a power game that has lasted for years. Jeremy Farrar of the Wellcome Foundation rightly warns: “We don’t realize what we’ve lost until we’ve lost it.”
The departure of Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Great Britain gives hope that a new start in bilateral relations is possible. But it is already foreseeable that the successor or the successor in the Northern Ireland question will be just as tough. It is all the more urgent to decouple Horizon access from other political developments.
It is psychologically understandable that the EU finds it so difficult to accommodate Great Britain or Switzerland. After all, both countries have repeatedly torpedoed European cooperation. The British exit from the Erasmus exchange program for students was particularly destructive. Despite everything, it is in the interest of the EU to avoid relapsing into small states, at least in research.
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