Horizon Europe and Switzerland – the interim status

14 July marked the second anniversary of Switzerland’s exclusion from the EU’s Framework Programmes for Research and Innovation, currently Horizon Europe. Philipp Langer, Head of International Research and Innovation Programmes at the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI), explained in an interview in June where Switzerland stands today.

Philipp Langer, as of July 2021 Switzerland is no longer an Associated State in the EU’s Framework Programmes for Research and Innovation. What’s the status today?

Philipp Langer: The situation has settled down to some extent – although not where we would have liked, namely that we would have found association again quickly. But we have set up orderly procedures so that Switzerland, as a Third Country, can participate to the best possible extent in Horizon Europe. We can support researchers better than in 2014, when Switzerland lost its association for a limited time. At that time, the participation of Swiss researchers in EU programmes plummeted by half – today we are seeing a high demand for federal funding. This is also thanks to partners such as EU GrantsAccess, who support researchers in their submissions.

What have you been able to do about the loss of EU research funding?

The money that Switzerland paid to the EU until 2021 now directly supports researchers in Switzerland. It is therefore available to researchers even without the association. But what we can’t replace with it is direct and equal participation in the European networks and the competition that comes with it. We can cushion the damage in this way, but of course this is not comparable with an association.

Who or what could help to improve the situation?

At the research level, we have tried everything – and we have support there. State Secretary Martina Hirayama recently took part in an informal Council of Ministers meeting of research and innovation ministers. A number of EU states called for Switzerland to be reassociated as soon as possible. But if we don’t have a solution at the higher, political level, little will happen in research cooperation.

And how far off is a solution?

The EU has politically linked the resolution of the institutional issues with Switzerland’s association to the current EU programmes. We expressly regret this. Switzerland’s association as quickly as possible remains the Federal Council’s declared goal. Association is also one of the subjects of the current talks with the EU within the framework of the package approach.

At the end of May the Federal Council put Horizon Europe on the agenda again. What was that about?

It was about the third generation of the so-called transitional measures. Every year, the EU defines research topics in all thematic areas – energy, environment, health, space and so on – and issues corresponding calls for proposals. For the annual calls 2021, 2022 and now also 2023, the Confederation has taken transitional measures.

In all those parts of the programme in which researchers can still submit projects but do not receive any money from the EU, the researchers receive the corresponding financial support from the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research (EAER) and SERI after a positive evaluation by the EU. This is in full swing. For example, there is an initiative for semiconductor research in the ETH Domain, funds for fusion research for ITER, an initiative on High Performance Computing (HPC) at CSCS in Lugano and funds for quantum research.

In order to replace the EU instruments for individuals (ERC grants) or companies (EIC grants), from which Switzerland is completely excluded, the EAER / SERI is funding as similar instruments as possible at the Swiss National Science Foundation and Innosuisse. So, the well over 600 million francs with which we would have participated annually in the EU Framework Programmes are now spent on all these measures.

Why is this 2023 business only being dealt with now?

We had hoped that we would soon be associated again. Nothing came of it. That is why the Federal Council has now redistributed the funds. The Federal Council has also decided to continue the transitional measures until Switzerland’s association to the Horizon package over the entire remaining Horizon Europe programme generation until 2027.

What would the alternatives be?

Individual countries, such as the United Kingdom, are interested in cooperating with Switzerland, but mostly only in certain areas.

And what happens next?

Association to Horizon Europe is the Federal Council’s priority goal. We hope that progress on the institutional issues will open the doors as soon as possible.

So, in the best-case scenario, Switzerland will be associated again in 2024?

This is the goal in any case.

Philipp Langer in conversation with Gabrielle Attinger
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