The European Commission announced on Friday that Iceland and Norway are the first countries to have become formally associated to Horizon Europe, enabling entities in those two countries to participate in Europe’s €95.5 billion research and innovation programme, under the same conditions as entities from EU member states.
Horizon Europe is an opportunity for EU member states and associated non-EU countries to continue and deepen cooperation in science, research and innovation, focusing on common priorities: the twin green and digital transition, public health and Europe’s competitiveness in the global landscape.
A spokesperson for the Commission explained that both Iceland and Norway are members of the European Economic Area (EEA) and do not have to sign a separate agreement with the EU but only a technical amendment to the EEA agreement. Switzerland, another EEA member and dominant contributor to the EU budget, has not yet finalised the negotiations.
Negotiations with more non-EU countries that are associated or have expressed interest to become associated to Horizon Europe are still on-going and further announcements will be made in the coming weeks, the spokesperson said. The majority of the associated countries are candidate and neighbourhood countries.
According to an audit report published by the European Court of Auditors (ECA) last April, the task of managing the financial contributions to the EU budget from non-EU countries to gain access to EU programmes such as the R&D programme Horizon is beset with risks and based on a diverse system of arrangements.
In fact, Kosovo was the first country in completing the Horizon Europe Association Negotiations but the signature will only take place after the national ratification and after the Commission has completed its internal procedures. This is expected in happen in November and only then the Agreement will enter into force.
The spokesperson added that 11 countries have finalised the negotiations: Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. Remaining countries are Canada, Israel, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Tunisia, Morocco, and Faroe Islands.
The spokesperson declined to reply to a question if political issues were delaying the negotiations with some of these countries. This happened in the past with Israel, a dominant contributor to Horizon with a high success rate (12.8 % in Horizon 2020), because of differences about funding to entities located across the 1967 borders (the Green Line).
A compromise solution was found where Israel accepted EU’s position that such entities are not eligible for EU funding while sticking to its own position about the borders. A source in the Commission told The Brussels Times that the EU and Israel are still in the negotiation phase and that negotiations are progressing well, with a view to closing them with the shortest delay.
The optimism is shared by Israel’s new minister of foreign affairs, Yair Lapid, who last week wrote an op-ed stating that “the EU is about to sign with us another wide-ranging economic technology pact, Horizon Europe.”
In practice a delay in the signature will not have any effect. Applicants can apply for funding in the calls already published or in the pipeline the coming months although no agreement has been signed yet with the associated country concerned, provided that the Horizon Europe association agreement applies at the time of signature of the grant agreement.
The Brussels Times