Swiss universities anticipate a delay in their Horizon Europe association until at least 2025, in the wake of the UK’s agreement with the program, amid ongoing political negotiations with the EU
Certain university leaders find optimism in the UK’s inclusion, while one now feels ‘alone in Europe’. Concurrently, in the most recent instance of disconnection, the Commission has excluded Switzerland from a university translation network
Leaders of Swiss universities expect a delay until at least 2025 before their association with Horizon Europe, following a recent agreement between the UK and Brussels.
Like the UK, Switzerland has faced exclusion due to broader political disagreements with the EU. However, unlike the UK, which resolved its Northern Ireland protocol dispute in February of this year, Switzerland has yet to formally initiate discussions with Brussels that could potentially lead to association.
“We feel alone in the middle of Europe,” said Yves Flückiger, rector of the University of Geneva.
We feel alone in the middle of Europe
Swiss Universities excluded from European Master’s in Translation (EMT)
Although including the UK in Horizon Europe is seen as a positive development for research, it weakens Switzerland’s position, as the EU’s concern over the absence of both countries has diminished. The Stick to Science campaign, jointly conducted by UK and Swiss Universities, aimed to separate association from political matters but has failed.
While not everyone shares Flückiger’s pessimism, the timeline for the Swiss association now hinges on the pace of broader negotiations with the EU to establish a new political relationship. Switzerland withdrew from negotiations in 2021, which means discussions on the Horizon Europe association haven’t even begun. Like in the case of the UK, the Commission has linked progress in these talks to association negotiations.
Switzerland’s federal elections in October will precede efforts to reach a “common declaration” with the EU on their broader political relationship. Subsequently, the Swiss government could formalize a negotiating mandate, possibly in the coming spring, for discussions with Brussels. The exact timing for the Commission to begin Horizon Europe association talks remains to be determined.
“The currently ongoing exploratory talks on the future of our relationship include a basket related to the possible association of Switzerland to the Union’s flagship programmes in the area of research (e.g. Horizon Europe) and beyond,” a Commission spokeswoman said.
A “positive outcome” in these exploratory talks “could open the door to resuming our cooperation on research and innovation,” she said.
Another complicating factor is the upcoming installation of a new Commission after the European elections in June next year. This transition is likely to slow down negotiations with Switzerland as Brussels undergoes the process of reorganising Commissioners.
Flückiger expresses concern that the Commission may require Switzerland to establish a strong high-level political agreement before granting permission to commence Horizon talks. “I expect it will take time,” he said. “I’m quite afraid it will take at least one or two years.”
Perceived pressure in broader EU negotiations
According to his estimation, this could delay the association until 2025 or 2026, raising concerns that it might become too late to participate in the framework program.
Luciana Vaccaro, president of Swiss universities, finds optimism in the UK’s recent agreement. She believes it demonstrates that when political issues are resolved, the European Commission is willing to advance research and establish association agreements.
Initially, she had been quite pessimistic about Switzerland’s prospects for association. However, with the UK deal in place, she now hopes to reach an agreement by 2025, with negotiations commencing under the new Commission next year.
It would still be valuable even if Switzerland were to join the program with only a few years remaining. This would allow researchers to gain experience applying for grants and contribute to shaping the subsequent framework program. Luciana Vaccaro, who also serves as the rector of the University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Western Switzerland, emphasises the importance of this opportunity.
Michael Hengartner, the head of the board overseeing Switzerland’s federal institutes of technology, shares the aspiration for a 2025 timeline.
“The UK association to Horizon Europe is a great achievement for European science,” he said because it “confirms that a political solution can be found when wished on both sides”. He called on Swiss and EU negotiators to start technical talks on Horizon association in the “coming weeks”.
Exclusion for 2024-2029
An additional uncertainty pertains to whether Swiss researchers can seek Horizon Europe grants while association negotiations are in progress. It remains to be seen whether they will be permitted to apply before a formal agreement is reached, similar to the approach taken with UK researchers, who were considered on the path to association.
The Commission’s stance concerning Swiss researchers is still being determined.
Swiss universities are displeased with a recent decision by the Commission to exclude them from participation in the European Master’s in Translation (EMT), a network and quality certification for universities offering MA courses in translation across Europe.
While this exclusion impacts only a few courses at the University of Geneva and the Zurich University of Applied Sciences, it is viewed by the Swiss as a means for the Commission to exert pressure in the broader negotiations with the EU by excluding Bern from EU-led programs.
Swiss universities are slated to be excluded from the next round of the program, covering 2024 to 2029. The League of European Research Universities (Leru) has expressed dismay over this decision, considering a five-year exclusion particularly severe and disproportionate.
Source: Open Access Government