(ScienceBusiness) Brussels is preparing to exclude researchers based in the UK, Israel and Switzerland from major quantum and space research projects, in a significant step that researchers and officials warn could have broad implications for science collaboration across Europe.
According to the latest draft plans for Horizon Europe, restrictions will be placed on the EU’s closest research partners in several quantum and space competitions. Until now, these projects were open to the association countries, which have negotiated access to EU research programmes.
The proposed move, which came from the European Commission and is now under discussion by member states, was greeted with dismay and sadness from researchers and officials, who said curbs would hurt all of Europe.
“Everyone’s shocked; we’ve never seen anything like this. This is not good for us, not good for the field, and not good for the EU,” said Klaus Ensslin, professor of solid-state physics at ETH Zurich.
The draft text argues that the move is necessary so the EU can protect its research base in rapidly developing fields. The language highlights just how much the EU’s thinking has shifted when it comes to striking the balance between research collaboration and competitive interests. The proposal would see fewer resources in key scientific areas go to associate countries, and more resources dedicated to developing these sectors at home.
“There have been certain indications that something like this had been building up. But this was quite dramatic,” said Nadav Katz, a quantum physicist who runs the Quantum Coherence Lab at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “This is not in Europe’s interest,” he said.
Researchers involved in the EU’s multi-billion Quantum Technologies Flagship, which is funded by Horizon 2020, were blindsided by the exclusions, which appeared for the first time in a draft that circulated last week.
“It was a big surprise,” said Tommaso Calarco, a theoretical physicist at the Helmholtz Centre in Jülich, Germany. Calarco is one of the leading forces behind the EU quantum programme that aims, among other objectives, to develop quantum computers that are exponentially more powerful than today’s supercomputers.
“Nobody expected this,” Calarco said. “It’s sad that things are working like this, because science is without borders.”