EU to begin ‘exploratory talks’ with Swiss on Horizon Europe

‘We are ready,’ European commissioner writes on social media after broader ‘understanding’ reached

November 22, 2023
Facade of the main building of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich
Source: iStock

The European Union will begin “exploratory talks” with Switzerland regarding the country’s hopes of rejoining the Horizon Europe research programme.

The European commissioner for research and innovation, Iliana Ivanova, posted on X (formerly Twitter) that she was “happy to confirm” that discussion with Switzerland could begin, adding: “[The] EU is open to cooperation in research and innovation with partners who share our values.”

Ms Ivanova was responding to a post by Maroš Šefčovič, the European Commission’s vice-president, who said a common understanding had been reached between the EU and Switzerland following 18 months of discussion. “This is a welcome and important step in our bilateral relationship,” he added.

The ETH Board, which manages Switzerland’s federal institutes of technology alongside a series of research institutes, said in a statement that it “warmly welcome[d] this positive development”, calling for “Switzerland’s full association to Horizon Europe as soon as possible”.

“Switzerland’s association to Horizon Europe must be kept separate from the other negotiations between Switzerland and the EU,” the board continued, citing the goals of the Stick to Science initiative, which campaigns for “open and barrier-free collaboration among Europe’s research and innovation (R&I) actors”.

The rectors’ conference, swissuniversities, said: “The Swiss universities welcome any indication that paves the way for an early full association with Horizon Europe. With a swift association, further damage to Switzerland’s position as a centre of research and education can be avoided and Europe can once again fully benefit from the excellence of Swiss universities.”

Switzerland was locked out of the €95 billion (£82 billion) Horizon scheme in 2021 after negotiations concerning its wider relationship with the EU broke down. Previously, the country’s association to Horizon 2020, the predecessor to Horizon Europe, was temporarily suspended in 2014 after the Swiss population voted in favour of a referendum “against mass immigration”.

The UK’s return to the Horizon programme in September raised hopes that Switzerland could follow suit. Prime minister Rishi Sunak announced a “bespoke deal” that enabled the UK to become a fully associated member, after dispute over the post-Brexit Northern Ireland protocol saw it frozen out for two years.

The Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities also commended the development, saying, “The UK’s association makes the omission of Switzerland from Horizon Europe as an associated country all the more glaring. The agreement made on UK association should incentivise us to push for a similar outcome with Switzerland.”

Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.

Related articles