EU membership and UK science Contents

Summary of Conclusions and recommendations

Regulatory framework

1.We are concerned by the apparent trend towards the development of over-arching EU regulations. This move away from the use of EU directives may result in the loss of the flexibility currently afforded to Member States in transposing directives into national regulations. (Paragraph 18)

2.Despite some EU regulatory frameworks clearly having a detrimental effect on UK and EU science, we see value in the harmonisation of regulatory frameworks across Member States. In areas where regulation has had a negative effect, or the development of new regulations has had the potential to have such an effect, the UK has often played a key role in working to improve and formulate more appropriate frameworks. We view the development of the new clinical trials regulation and data protection regulation to be prominent examples of this. (Paragraph 39)

Scientific advice and influence

3.We welcome the development of the Scientific Advice Mechanism (SAM) and the presence of a UK scientist, Professor Dame Julia Slingo, on the membership of the High Level Group. The SAM, however, is in its infancy and it remains to be seen how effective and influential it will prove to be. It is vital that its early promise is fulfilled. The progress of the SAM must be monitored carefully and we will keep a watching brief in this area, and trust that others will do the same, not least the UK scientific community. (Paragraph 55)

4.We conclude that the UK plays a leading role in the development of EU policies and decision-making processes that relate to science and research. UK scientists in various EU fora act to ensure that the UK’s voice is clearly heard and that the EU remains aligned with the advancement of UK science, particularly by shaping the balance between funding awarded on the basis of research excellence and that awarded for capacity building. (Paragraph 73)

Funding

5.The EU funding system for science and research is complicated and there are many ways in which the EU aims to fulfil its shared competence in research policy. This complexity means that UK researchers can struggle to navigate through the system. We welcome the efforts made by the European Commission to reduce the complexity and administrative burden, though their effectiveness to date is unclear. (Paragraph 102)

6.During the period 2007–13, the UK was a net contributor to the EU overall, but a net receiver of EU funding for research. Given that just under one fifth (18.3%) of the funds the UK received from the EU during this time were used to support science and research, we consider that science is a significant dimension of the UK’s membership of the EU. (Paragraph 105)

7.Despite many assertions that the UK performs very well in terms of EU funding for science and research, it has proved challenging to define unambiguously the level of EU spending on R&D in the UK and how this compares with other Member States. We have been able to verify the UK’s position as a high receiver of funds in terms of Framework Programme funding only. When the portion of the EU’s structural funds designated for research and innovation are taken into account, we have found it more difficult to assess the UK’s position. (Paragraph 118)

8.The purposes of competitive Framework Programme funds and structural funds for research and innovation are different. By designating a portion of structural funds for research and innovation, the European Commission aims to boost scientific capacity across Member States and increase the success rate of applications for competitive Framework Programme funds from regions with weaker economies. While we commend this approach, we are concerned by the apparent lack of evidence as to whether this spending has actually raised the scientific competitiveness of recipients. We recommend that this evidence should be assembled by the European Commission. (Paragraph 119)

9.We are concerned that the participation of large UK businesses in Framework Programme 7 lagged behind that of key competitor nations such as Germany and France and was below the EU average. We recognise that participation in Horizon 2020 may be greater. However, we remain concerned, particularly in the light of the abolition of the Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) and introduction of the Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), that UK Government support for businesses in engaging with EU funding schemes may be weaker than in some other Member States. The integrated approach adopted in other countries such as Germany could be viewed as a good model and a basis for a programme of benchmarking. For their part, however, we urge businesses to engage fully with the opportunities afforded by EU funding. We recommend that the UK Government benchmarks its level of support for businesses, large and small, wishing to participate in EU programmes with that available in other Member States and put forward proposals for improving UK performance. (Paragraph 135)

Collaboration

10.It was repeatedly put to us that one of the most significant aspects of the UK’s EU membership is the provision of opportunities to collaborate. We view the EU to have three main influences: the provision of collaborative funding schemes and programmes; ensuring researcher mobility; and facilitating and fostering participation in shared pan-European research infrastructures. (Paragraph 157)

11.Many would maintain that the provision of collaborative opportunities is perhaps the most significant benefit that EU membership affords science and research in the UK. These collaborative opportunities are not just between Member States but can extend to non-EU and non-European countries. (Paragraph 158)

12.The researcher mobility afforded by the EU’s fundamental principle of freedom of movement is of critical importance to the UK science community, including academia, businesses and charities. It is vital that the flow of researchers—both coming to the UK and UK nationals working overseas—is not restricted. We conclude that researcher mobility must be protected if UK science and research is to remain world-leading. (Paragraph 171)

13.Our report on international science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) students, published in 2014, highlighted concerns about the negative impact of Government immigration policy on international recruitment from outside the EU. We are concerned that this situation appears to have changed little since the publication of our report and we recommend that the Government reviews its policy in this area. (Paragraph 172)

14.The UK gains significant value from being involved in a number of pan-European Research Infrastructures (RIs), both as a host country and as a user of facilities hosted outside of the UK. We conclude that such European based, but non-EU, RIs, although formally independent of the EU, are in fact interlinked to varying degrees. (Paragraph 207)

Scenarios

15.The UK might wish to become an Associated Country in the event of Brexit. We heard, however, strong views that the UK would lose its influence and roles in setting strategic priorities and in decision-making. If Associated Country status were to be pursued, further investigation would be required in order to ascertain to what extent, and at what expense, the UK’s currently influential position would be diminished. (Paragraph 235)

16.Even those who were most in favour of continued membership of the EU—the university sector—criticised aspects of the UK’s relationship with the EU. We therefore conclude that, in the event that the UK chooses to remain part of the EU, there would be scope for the UK Government to advance reforms to enhance the interactions between the EU and UK science and research. We suggest that a particular areas of focus should be the influence of the EU on the UK’s regulatory environment and the support available for UK businesses in order to facilitate engagement with EU funding schemes. (Paragraph 250)





© Parliamentary copyright 2016