The European Commission and the UK government agreed that the country will become an associate member of the £85 billion program on September 7. The move could indicate that the EU and Switzerland are open to movement on sticking points in their negotiation, stakeholders hope.
The relationship between Switzerland and the European Union broke down after a new treaty designed to bring together historic bilateral deals into one framework was rejected in 2021. Association to the Horizon program, as well as the Erasmus student mobility scheme, were two European initiatives that Switzerland lost access to as a result.
Swiss People’s Party, a nationalist party seeking to maintain independence of Switzerland, is expected to win the upcoming federal election in October.
The current government, run in a grand coalition of the major political parties, says its goal is for Switzerland to fully associate to the Horizon Europe program. But there are concerns that right-wing, anti-EU parties in the country – which has never been an EU member state – could stall further agreements.
Earlier this year, Swiss president and member of the Social Democratic Party, Alain Berset, discussed Switzerland’s association to the EU’s Horizon Europe and Erasmus+ programs with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen at Davos.
While no breakthroughs have yet been announced, the European parliament supported calls for Switzerland to become a full member of the €26 billion Erasmus+ mobility program in May.
A back-up research funding scheme, established by the Swiss National Science Foundation, “solves part of the financial problem”, stakeholders have said.
ETH Zurich – which is one of the Swiss universities that has been most impacted financially by loss of access to the Horizon program – has been a key leader in the Stick to Science which has sought UK and Swiss participation in Horizon Europe.
Director of UUKi, Jamie Arrowsmith noted that the Stick to Science campaign “has always been about securing full association for both the UK and Switzerland”.
“We are hugely grateful that the UK’s involvement has been secured, and for the support that has helped deliver this outcome,” he wrote online.
“UUKi will continue to work with our friends and colleagues in Switzerland, and throughout the European research community, to advocate for Swiss participation – it remains in our collective interests to do so.”
“We look forward to further progress”
“The reintegration of the UK into Horizon Europe and Copernicus reaffirms the commitment of both the EU and the UK to advancing global scientific excellence,” it said in a statement. “As we celebrate this achievement, we also look forward to further progress in the international scientific community, with hopes for the accession of Switzerland.”
Earlier this year, Rik Van de Walle, president of CESAER and rector of Ghent University stated that “politicians ought to be ready to move beyond their divisions and pursue cooperation in the areas that really make a difference”.
The Swiss Science Council has also made similar calls.
👏The @Swiss_SSC and its president @ssusstrunk welcome the return of the UK under #HorizonEurope as fully associated country. Switzerland should now receive the same status ⚡️as soon as possible!
— Swiss Science Council (@Swiss_SSC) September 7, 2023
Yves Flückiger, rector of the University of Geneva and chair of the League of European Research Universities, has previously raised concerns that even if Swiss and European politicians can hammer out a resolution he fears that Swiss universities will have to wait for the next Horizon program beginning in 2027.
“The UK’s association makes the omission of Switzerland from Horizon Europe as an associated country all the more glaring,” the Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities added.
“The agreement made on UK association should incentivise us to push for a similar outcome with Switzerland. Our members remain united in demanding full association of Switzerland to Horizon Europe in light of today’s positive momentum.”