Germany fights UK exclusion from EU research projects
Germany and other EU members are opposing a move by the European Commission to block Britain and Israel from quantum and space projects on security grounds, diplomats said Tuesday.
The European Commission is currently setting up guidelines for EU research projects over the next coming years, and diplomats worry Brussels could prevent valuable research by sidelining some non-members.
The EU executive’s position, which sources said would keep Switzerland out of space projects, is seen as an attempt to strengthen the bloc’s “strategic autonomy”, a new concept encouraged by France as an answer to the dominant influence of the US and China.
Last week, Berlin came out strongly against the plan, calling for the “full participation” of the UK, Switzerland and Israel in quantum and space projects that are worth several billion euros.
“In the field of quantum technology in particular, these countries have traditionally been important partners and should continue in this role in future,” German Research Minister Thomas Rachel told Science|Business, a specialist news site.
According to EU diplomats and other sources close to the matter, the decision to block non-EU countries is backed by Thierry Breton, the EU commissioner from France responsible for the highly sensitive digital, industry and space and defence portfolios.
“If this is what strategic autonomy under Breton looks like, we are in for a rough ride,” said one EU diplomat.
– ‘Damaging international cooperation’ –
The European Commission and Breton’s office said they would make no comment on a process that was still ongoing.
Diplomats said several member states made their opposition known to the commission in a meeting last week and the proposal was due to be discussed again in April.
At the meeting, the commission stressed that it was especially concerned about valuable intellectual property ending up in the hands of the US or China through companies participating in the EU research, a source said.
But academics point out that Britain and Israel are longtime partners in these research areas. Cutting them off now would cause Europe to lose even more ground to the US and China, they argue.
Thomas Hoffmann, the head of the EuroTech Universities Alliance, said the exclusion of Switzerland, Israel and Britain was “not in the interest of Europe’s research community nor the wider society and could be damaging for international cooperation”.
Hoffman expressed his concern in a letter to the research minister of Portugal, which holds the EU presidency.
He was backed by France’s Ecole Polytechnique and Israel’s Technion Israel Institute of Technology among other institutions.