European Commissioner Carlos Moedas (left) and Ukrainian education and science minister Serhii Myronovych Kvit exchange signatures in Kiev.

European Commissioner Carlos Moedas (left) and Ukrainian education and science minister Serhii Myronovych Kvit exchange signatures in Kiev.

European Union

Ukraine joins E.U. research club—at a steep discount

BRUSSELS—Ukraine has earned privileged access to competitive research funds from the European Union, bringing its science closer to the Western bloc. Under a deal signed in Kiev on 20 March with the European Commission, Ukraine becomes an “associated country” to Horizon 2020, the European Union's €80 billion, 7-year research program. That means researchers and businesses in Ukraine may apply for any Horizon 2020 grant.

The commission has given Ukraine a sweet deal: It receives a 95% rebate on its association fee and a 1-year deferment to pay the first year's installment. The agreement is a testament to the European Union's will to build closer economic and political ties with its former Soviet neighbor, a process that has sped up after the conflict in Eastern Ukraine erupted last year. Researchers in the Crimean Peninsula, annexed by Russia, are excluded from the agreement.

“Ukraine will now have access to the full spectrum of activities funded under Horizon 2020, helping spur its economy,” said E.U. research commissioner Carlos Moedas in a statement.

Ukraine-based researchers did receive about €24 million of E.U. research money under the previous program, between 2007 and 2013. But until now, Russia's neighbor had the status of a “third country,” meaning that researchers there were excluded from parts of the program, including coveted grants from the European Research Council (ERC). The upgrade puts Ukraine on par with 12 other non-E.U. countries including Iceland, Norway, and Turkey.

Ukrainian applicants are encouraged to submit research proposals under this year's calls, says a Horizon 2020 document issued last month, but formal grant agreements will be signed only when the Horizon 2020 agreement enters into force—that is, after the Ukrainian parliament ratifies it.

The conflict in Ukraine has had a major impact on the country's science. Entire universities have been relocated from war-torn Eastern Ukraine, along with an estimated 1500 scientists and 10,000 students; meanwhile, the country lost several important research assets when Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula in March 2014. The European Union strongly rejects the annexation, and the Horizon 2020 association rules reflect that. “Given that the EU does not recognise the illegal annexation … legal persons established in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea or the city of Sevastopol are not eligible to participate,” says the document.

The European Union has tried to build bridges with Ukraine in other ways as well; last year, it offered a package of aid and loans worth more than €11 billion to boost recovery and reform.