The European Union is moving to block Israel, along with few other countries, from cooperating in its quantum computing and space research programs under the Horizon Europe research fund, Science Magazine has reported.
The proposal has yet to be approved by the 27 EU member states. If it passes, researchers from numerous countries would be shut out from these programs.
This development occurred despite Horizon Europe's 2018 promise, when the program was initiated, that it would be "open to the world," the magazine reported.
Horizon Europe is the latest iteration of the European research programs, which began in 1984 and are renewed every seven years.
However, this promise of renewal has been strained in recent months, with policymakers in Brussels arguing about what the EU should "safeguard" among their strategic assets and interests, and whether they should domestically produce components for quantum and space technologies. Essentially, this means that the EU estimates that such technologies will become increasingly important for national security in the near future, according to Science|Business.Israel, Switzerland and the United Kingdom are among the countries that would be kicked out of these programs if the proposal passes. Despite not being part of the EU, these countries, along with several others, were expected to pay a fee for associate membership in the Horizon Europe Program. Under the proposal, while they would still be allowed to submit research grant proposals for these programs, this would significantly limit their access. Other countries that are at risk of being barred are part of the European Economic Area (EEA) like Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland, though these three would still be eligible for quantum research under terms of the proposal.
The news came as a surprise to many, since they did not expect to suddenly be barred from Horizon Europe.
“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, according to Science|Business.
LIKE MANY others, Katz feels that the decision would be harmful for the European Union, as it would cost them valuable partners in research. In Israel alone, there are around 20 quantum projects involving the EU.
These fears were also shared by the Israel National Quantum Initiative head Tal David, who said the move could set a very bad precedent for excluding other groups from EU research projects.
“Friends need to stick together; otherwise, you end up alone,” David warned Science|Business, adding that “today, it’s quantum and space; tomorrow you will be talking about artificial intelligence and who knows what else.”
But while the drafted proposal itself may be new, Israel has been worrying about being excluded from Horizon Europe for quite some time.
In 2020, ahead of a potential Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank, many feared that European sanctions on Israel could result in being excluded from Horizon Europe.
Israel was the first non-European country to take part in Horizon Europe, beginning in 1996. Since then, Israeli proposals have a higher acceptance rate (13.5%) compared to European countries (11%). In particular, during Horizon 2020, a great percentage of the projects funded were run by joint teams from Israel and Greece.
In the 2007-2013 Horizon program, Israel invested €535m. and Israelis won grants totaling €875m. Israel invested €1 billion in Horizon 2020 and Israelis won €1.2b. as of June, but could get more by the end of the program.
Israel has considered the Horizon program as having "strategic importance," according to a report by the Mitvim Institute for Regional Foreign Policies. As such, it is very important for Israel to remain part of it.
Being excluded from it “will harm international cooperation, access to research infrastructure [laboratories and facilities], and the ability to use research databases,” the report adds.
In response to this threat, the Science and Technology Ministry confirmed at the time that they were preparing contingency plans in case the EU went through with it, but it is unclear if any plans are now in place.