Switzerland has always contributed to European science, even before the European Union existed. As early as 1954, it took part in the creation of CERN in Geneva. In 1975, it was one of the founding members of the European Space Agency. Since 1987, it has participated as a third country in the European research framework programmes, which it joined as an associated country in 2004 thanks to Bilateral I. Since then, the association has been renegotiated for each generation of programmes. The discussions on Horizon Europe 2021-2027 were suspended pending the conclusion of the framework agreement.
Today, research is hostage to a political game and the timetable is not in its favour. A month ago, the Federal Council broke off negotiations on the framework agreement, and last week the European Commission announced that Switzerland was not on the list of countries for which association with the Horizon Europe programme is envisaged in the near future.
Relegation to third country status means that
- Swiss researchers and companies can no longer coordinate European projects. In the last programme, Horizon 2020 2014-2020, Swiss scientists coordinated 1185 projects, i.e. 3.9% of the total. Coordinating a project means helping to set the future priorities of European research and thus shaping the development of the research and innovation area on a continental scale.
- Researchers in Switzerland can no longer obtain ERC grants from the European Research Council. In the last programme, these highly competitive grants represented 40% of the total European funding granted to Switzerland, i.e. more than one billion Swiss francs.
- SMEs in Switzerland are under threat, as they are at the heart of the third pillar of the EU programme, which is dedicated to the development and commercialization of research results. Almost 25% of Swiss projects funded in Horizon 2020 were led by SMEs, a share that rises to 36% if industries are included. This direct funding has no equivalent instrument in Switzerland.
Access to European programmes also enables Switzerland to attract the best talent. Without an association, they will leave Switzerland to settle in other countries of the continent. The absence of an association also prejudices the future of young people in training, since it restricts their access to the European research network - this in a context of student mobility that has already been weakened since Switzerland is no longer associated with Erasmus+. Today, the first calls for projects of Horizon Europe are launched from which Swiss scientists are excluded.