Back in the Club

(February 14th, 2017) The beginning of 2017 saw Switzerland regain full access to the nearly €80 billion EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation Horizon 2020.

The change follows the Swiss Federal Council’s December 2016 ratification of the protocol extending the freedom of movement to Croatia. Switzerland can again participate as an Associated Country in the whole Horizon 2020 programme as had been the case in the decade between 2004 and 2014. Researchers in Switzerland now have the same rights as their colleagues from EU Member States in submitting project proposals and in receiving EU funding. Projects already underway will not be affected.

“There is a huge sense of relief among researchers because the time of uncertainty is over and trust to act as a full-fledged member in the European Research Area is back,” said Lino Guzzella, President of ETH Zurich. “Being fully associated has been the ultimate goal, for which the science community in Switzerland has been fighting since February 2014. Now, we are an equal partner again in the scientific community, and no extra or different rules apply when it comes to writing, co-ordinating, financing and reporting,” he added.

“Scientists and engineers located in Switzerland are once more free to choose their collaboration partners, apply for funding and possibly lead projects openly,” noted Maurice Campagna, President of the Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences. “Important breakthroughs in science have no borders. It would have done enormous damage to Switzerland had we been excluded from full European collaboration any longer,” he said.

To re-establish free and open exchange between Swiss scientists and engineers and the European knowledge networks, the Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences and industrial leaders signed common declarations and organised events with interested politicians. Moreover, on the portal AdValue, the Swiss universities, the Swiss National Science Foundation and the Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences are advocating an internationally connected research environment. Since Switzerland recruits more than a third of its specialists in education and research from abroad, any restriction of free movement would reduce the quality in these fields. Lobbying will continue in 2017 because freedom of movement is still being debated in Switzerland.

Although the Swiss parliament had already approved funding for the country’s participation in Horizon 2020 in autumn 2013, Switzerland lost its status as an Associated Country within the research programme. The reason was the referendum on the mass immigration initiative of February 2014, which opposed freedom of movement, one of the key principles of the EU.

Subsequently, Switzerland and the EU agreed on partial association, which was in force between September 2014 and the end of 2016. Under this agreement, the country retained access to the Excellent Science section as an Associated Country, including the European Research Council, Future and Emerging Technologies, Research Infrastructures and the Marie Sklodowska-Curie actions. In the sections Industrial Leadership and Societal Challenges researchers received replacement funding for their projects. “These transitional measures helped our researchers to continue their efforts towards excellence, and regaining full access to the European programme allows our scientists to play in the correct league,” commented Martin Vetterli, President of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. “Being part of H2020 means a much wider range of opportunities for the careers of our scientists and students,” he said.

Thomas Hafen, CEO of the Swiss medical diagnostics company Bühlmann Laboratories AG reported on AdValue that his company, like many small and medium-sized enterprises in Switzerland, had not had access to Horizon 2020 since 2014, disadvantaging them when it came to competition. He pointed out that his company’s success was based on collaboration with specialised researchers often found only abroad in Europe and supported by EU research programmes.

“For research-intensive institutions, the European Council’s commitment to excellence in research is crucial. We also need the European Council’s commitment for the importance of basic research as it is a matter of global competitiveness,” noted ETH Zurich President Guzzella. “The EU’s investment in innovation is strong but complex. What is missing is a systemic approach – this should and can be improved over the coming years,” he commented. Beside their dedication to an internationally linked scientific community, the Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences engage in building trust across disciplines, from social science to engineering and from natural to medical science. The Academies’ President Campagna added, “We want to involve scientists and engineers in an open dialogue with all societal players and to promote ethical behaviour in science.”

Bettina Dupont

Photo: Dittmer

Last Changes: 03.10.2017