Commission plans to boost number of Horizon association agreements

07 Nov 2023 | News

Iliana Ivanova says it’s her ‘personal priority’ to secure more association deals with non-EU countries in the coming months

Iliana Ivanova, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth. Photo: Geert Vanden Wijngaert / European Union

The EU must bolster international research cooperation if it is to keep attracting the best minds and companies to the single market, the research and innovation commissioner Iliana Ivanova said in a speech to the European Telecommunications Network Operators' Association on Tuesday.

Ivanova said she has made it her “personal priority” to bolster international research cooperation and “step up work” on Horizon Europe association deals with countries from around the world. However, she insisted these deals would still abide by the overarching principle “as open as possible, as closed as necessary.”

Ivanova has been less than two months on the job, and she has less than a year to attract more partner countries to associate to Horizon Europe.

The EU and UK finally reached a deal in September after nearly three years of haggling over financial terms, and Commission officials were hoping the breakthrough would encourage other countries to speed up negotiations. Indeed, the expectation was that the value of associating to Horizon Europe would go up if some of the finest research institutes and universities in the world – which are based in the UK – are part of the programme.

However, it’s not very clear whether the Commission is willing to set more lenient terms to speed up the process. Switzerland, Canada, Japan and South Korea are still waiting to join.

In the case of Switzerland, access to EU research programmes was largely cut off in 2021 after Bern and Brussels started haggling over overarching political and trade relations, which have yet to be resolved.

A deal with Canada might be slowed down by budgetary concerns in Ottawa, while South Korea has barely started preparing for its first working group meeting with the EU.   As for Japan, the government has yet to decide whether pursuing Horizon association is worth the effort.

Horizon Europe was meant to be “open to the world”, a mantra coined by former EU commissioner Carlos Moedas, under whose leadership the Commission drafted the plan for the ongoing research and innovation programme.

However, things have changed since then and the EU had to be more careful in choosing its international partners to avoid technology leakage to China and other hostile nations. Cooperation ties with Russia were severed completely, while the number of collaborative projects with Chinese partners has dwindled.

Ivanova is now trying to navigate through this dilemma. On the one hand, she told delegates today that “protectionism stifles innovation” and that “by erecting new barriers” the EU cannot win in the global technology race. “Because walls, eventually, come down. And Europeans know this very well,” said Ivanova.

The EU is trying to leverage its R&D capacity to gain competitive advantage in several key technologies, including artificial intelligence, advanced semiconductors, batteries and hydrogen. To achieve these goals, it needs to open up to researchers and innovators from around the world, while ensuring technology is not being leaked or used for nefarious purposes.

“This is why within Horizon Europe, we have the necessary safeguards to ensure that others cannot abuse our trust,” said Ivanova.

Never miss an update from Science|Business:   Newsletter sign-up