The UK re-joining Horizon Europe signals a commitment to collaboration
Alex Jantzen, Optica Ambassador, Co-founder and COO of Aquark Technologies
Caption: Alex Jantzen, Optica Ambassador Class of 2022
The UK re-joins the €95.5bn Horizon Europe programme in a move many scientists have been holding their breath for, signalling that the UK and Europe are ready to collaborate more closely again on research.
The idea of a sole scientist taking on the world and making earth-shattering discoveries is one that we revere and see in pop culture (Oppenheimer) or are taught about in scientific history (Einstein, Curie, Newton) . While one cannot diminish the significance of their achievements, the reality is that all these titans of scientific history needed cooperation to achieve the impact they have today. The UK re-joining Horizon Europe signals its desire to repeat these successes.
The Horizon Europe programme presents an unparalleled platform for collaborative research and innovation. It represents the largest funding programme in the world for research and innovation and fosters an environment of cross-disciplinary research, ground-breaking discoveries and technological advancements. Without scientific and technological collaboration, the most valuable companies of today would look significantly different.
Of the 10 most valuable companies in the world, 8 of these are technology-based, and 5 out of 6 companies that exceed a $1tn market cap are technology-based too. It should be in no doubt that science and technology are incredibly valuable, but the route to achieving technological and business success can often be a perilous and financially challenging journey.
Re-joining Horizon Europe enables the UK to be a central player in the European research community and with it, unites a pool of resources and expertise from a diverse set of member states. The size of the budget that EU Horizon has enables hard problems to be solved, and it bridges the gap between new and established innovation. It expands access to a larger talent pool of researchers and scientists, a factor often cited as stifling innovation. This leads to greater diffusion of knowledge, enabling both EU and UK research institutions, universities, industries and start-ups to chip away at the knowledge frontier even faster, benefiting society at large.
Modern research and innovation is rooted in the international collaboration of talent, facilities and problem-solving. In a world that looks increasingly inwards, these key ingredients are continuously under threat when, in fact, we should be looking at growing them. With the United Kingdom leaving the European Union in 2020, the UK also de facto left the EU’s key program, Horizon, constricting collaboration efforts . While in subsequent years it has been possible to apply jointly under continuity agreements, the reality has been that Horizon proposals can be a lot of work, and European partners had to ask themselves “why risk having a UK company be part of it?” This question no longer needs to be asked as the UK re-joins Horizon.
Not everything will be rosy and the challenges will still remain in deciding how to allocate funds. This will cause some friction, but the biggest challenges we face today such as climate change, healthcare, digital transformation, security and sustainable development will get more needed funding.
All of these challenges demand collective efforts on an international scale and, if you want to be the forerunner in any of these areas, budgets must match the scale of the challenges. The Horizon framework strengthens the UK’s ability to pursue its own research interests separately and allows it to work with other international partners. Moreover, joining signals to the EU community and the world that the UK is a place of international collaboration and enables it to address problems more effectively. This united front amplifies the UK’s voice on the world stage, as we collectively strive for a better future for humanity.
Economically, the benefits of joining the EU Horizon program are equally compelling. Participation in EU-funded research projects enhances the attractiveness of the UK as a hub for scientific talent, innovation and investment. By aligning ourselves with the EU's strategic research and innovation agenda, we can tap into substantial funding streams. Returning to the top 10 most valuable companies in the world, one can quickly notice that none of these originated in Europe or the UK, but it is through programs such as Horizon that opportunities for growing start-ups, SMEs and established industries are unlocked to change that.
In the field of optics, photonics, optoelectronics and quantum technology, the products we make are enabling technologies that allow even greater things to be achieved. Power efficient LEDs, high-performance solar cells, high-speed optical internet, laser-based manufacturing, cameras, include photolithography machine, medical microscopes, quantum computers and many more are enabling the capabilities that give us the modern society we have today. By its very nature, this field is all about cross-disciplinary research and it is exactly this type of technology that EU Horizon prioritizes and that drives the most value for society.
Re-joining the EU Horizon program is a bold statement by the United Kingdom to reclaim its position as a global leader in research, innovation and cooperation. Embracing this program will facilitate collaboration, address global challenges, bolster the economy and showcase the UK's commitment to a brighter, interconnected future. Europe, including the UK, has all the ingredients needed to create the innovations needed for a more prosperous future. The strength to openly collaborate together will see us get there.
With the news today, I say that we should celebrate—let us seize this moment to embrace progress and shape a better tomorrow together.
 The myth of the lone genius, Nobel Prize, https://www.nobelprize.org/martin-chalfie-npii-canada/
 Largest Companies by Market Cap, CompaniesMarketcap, https://companiesmarketcap.com/
 UK’s Rupture with Horizon Europe is totally unnecessary, Nature https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-022-01676-1
*Horizon Europe is a flagship program with a budget of €95.5 billion that runs until 2027. It provides a framework for funding fundamental science to applied technology development. Its key objectives are tackling societal challenges, fostering excellence, enhancing innovation, supporting infrastructure and enabling global collaboration. https://research-and-innovation.ec.europa.eu/funding/funding-opportunities/funding-programmes-and-open-calls/horizon-europe_en