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A short history of EU funds

Stephen Hawking already knew: Brexit is also bad for British researchers. What if they had to forego EU funds in the future?

By Eric Bonse

Illustration: © Ella Frances Sanders
He was the most famous researcher of his generation: Stephen Hawking. His Short History of Time was a bestseller, his theory of black holes is world famous. It is less well-known that Hawking's work also benefited from grants from the EU research program Horizon, and that the English physicist warned against his country’s leaving the EU.
Hawking feared that Brexit would hamper access to EU funding and trigger a brain drain. Together with another 150 scientists, he signed an open letter shortly before his death, pointing out that the UK was receiving significantly more money from the EU research budget than it was paying. Every year, around 930 million euros are spent on EU aid.
Not only top British researchers such as Hawking benefit from the money; visiting scholars from other EU countries and transnational research projects are also funded by the program. Without this aid, which will amount to almost 80 billion euros in 2014-2020, thousands of projects would have to be discontinued. The EU would fall behind the rest of the world in research and innovation.

No wonder the majority of British researchers are against Brexit

In contrast to previous framework programs, Horizon 2020 is not “just” a research framework program: in addition to research, it also focuses on innovation. This will support projects that cover the entire innovation chain, from basic research to the preparation of marketable products and services.
But what would happen if researchers had to do without EU aid? The British House of Lords has calculated the consequences and set out the “worst case” of a chaotic Brexit without an agreement. In this case, around 44 per cent of the Horizon aid received so far would disappear, since it is not intended for third countries outside the EU.
In addition, cross-border research cooperation would suffer. For the UK, that would be a bitter loss; the country could lose its leading position. No wonder the majority of British researchers are against Brexit, just like Hawking.