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Dossiers - Relations with the EU

Full association to Horizon Europe essential


Swiss researchers have been participating in the EU Framework Programmes for Research and Innovation since 1987. Since 2004, our country has been fully associated and thus an equal research partner. Since 2021 - as a direct sanction of the unilateral termination of the negotiations on the Institutional Framework Agreement - we have again been treated as a third country, and this is already having a negative impact.

The Horizon Europe research programme is the world's largest research and innovation funding programme. Researchers and companies from Switzerland currently have only limited access to Horizon Europe. As a recently published study by the University of Basel shows, Horizon Europe cannot be fully replicated through bilateral partnerships alone.

The chemical, pharmaceutical and life sciences industries are particularly dependent on excellence in research, cooperation between academic and industrial research and the promotion of start-ups. The lack of full association with Horizon Europe is costing our country innovative power and thus reducing the potential for future product innovation and economic growth.

Companies from the life sciences and pharmaceutical sectors represent the stable main players in EU research. For various member companies of scienceindustries, the Horizon Europe programme points are a very relevant source in the elaboration of new technologies, in the development of new products and new applications for existing products. Furthermore, they are important for access to scientific networks.

Negative consequences of not being fully associated with Horizon Europe
As a recent EPFL publication pointed out, the immediate effects of Switzerland's non-association with European programmes are already visible. For example, the number of collaborations is decreasing, access to European markets for Swiss technologies is being restricted, and the first start-ups are relocating part of their activities abroad. It is to be feared that these negative effects will continue.

Third-country participation in Horizon, as is currently the case for Switzerland, is linked to restrictions. Only collaborative projects are open to third countries. Individual projects are not part of this, nor is project management provided for. As a result, it is more difficult for Switzerland to acquire top researchers - some even leave.

The focus is particularly on the highly competitive grants of the European Research Council (ERC), which are aimed at outstanding researchers. Swiss researchers have so far been among the frontrunners in the ERC grants awarded annually. For the 2021 call for proposals, the European Research Council awarded eleven grants to ETH researchers worth around 17 million Swiss francs. However, the researchers were unable to receive the award due to Switzerland's non-association.

Financial compensation no substitute
Switzerland is no longer allowed to participate in many planned Horizon Europe projects. For some of the projects in which Switzerland is allowed to participate, however, the funding must come from SERI. The Confederation, or rather the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI), provides corresponding financial resources as a result of the discontinuation of full association - this makes sense.

The transitional measures of the Confederation via Innosuisse, SERI, SNSF and ESA enable participation in collaborative projects in Horizon Europe (temporarily until full association). The contribution earmarked for Horizon Europe is paid directly to Swiss researchers by SERI through transitional measures. No funds are lost in the process, as the contributions from 2021 onwards have not been paid to the EU.

For Swiss researchers, however, the opportunities for participation are limited and cumbersome. Nor can the discontinuation of Horizon Europe be fully compensated for by national transitional and supplementary measures. The reputational damage caused by the loss of ERC grants alone is massive.

Further research agreements no substitute
In the short term, the slump in participations has been reduced by the measures taken, despite a 10-15% reduction in collaborative projects. Swiss universities and research institutions are still feeding off old Horizon projects, but in the new projects (e.g. in the field of quantum computing) they can only be involved indirectly at best or in the background. However, these are strategic projects with central importance and a long-term perspective.

Further international cooperations are to be welcomed, but none of them is a substitute for Horizon Europe - on the contrary, they are to be seen as an important complement and diversification. Exchange and cooperation in the European networks between business and science for research and development is and remains vital - for MNEs as well as for SMEs and start-ups.

A relocation of research centres abroad with access to the best networks ultimately damages the attractiveness of Switzerland as a location. In the long term, this would also lead to the relocation of attractive jobs and tax revenues abroad. The founding of new highly innovative companies or start-ups would also increasingly take place outside of Switzerland.

Playing in the "Champions League" again
Conclusion: Switzerland benefits not only from the EU internal market, but also from EU research programmes in particular. For Switzerland there is no alternative to the EU internal market, but the EU also benefits from the countries participating in the market. Finally, as knowledge-based industries, the chemical, pharmaceutical and life sciences companies are highly dependent on full association with EU research programmes.

The Swiss location can only keep up with the world leaders in the future if we succeed in maintaining our attractiveness, innovative strength and reputation as a research location. The key to this was and is access to European research programmes. It is important that we can once again participate at the highest level as a full member of the European research community. But above all, we must be able to benefit from the networks and, in return, once again assume a leading role in European research projects. Swiss science must be able to play in the "Champions League of Research".

Position paper on the past, present and future of Horizon Europe

The European Commission launched a public consultation in December 2022 to evaluate Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe and to define future priorities with the Strategic Plan 2025-2027. SERI, SNSF, Innosuisse, swissuniversities, the Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences, the Euresearch Network, ETH Board, the Swiss Science Council, SwissCore, Swissmem and scienceindustries contributed to this position paper (February 2023) focusing on Horizon Europe. > To the position paper


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