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UK Horizon Europe deal prompts renewed push on Switzerland


University group says UK association to EU R&D programme makes Swiss exclusion “more glaring”

Europe’s research sector has renewed its push for Switzerland to join the EU’s research and innovation programme, Horizon Europe, after a deal was reached with the UK this week.

Yesterday, the European Commission and UK government announced they had reached an agreement on the UK associating to the EU’s roughly €95.5bn 2021-27 R&I programme.

Association enables a country’s R&I sector to participate in the programme on equal terms with EU member states, except for potential exclusion from sensitive security-related calls.

Despite the UK and Switzerland being longstanding R&I collaborators with the EU, the bloc had prevented the UK from associating to Horizon Europe due to disagreements over trade. It continues to leave Switzerland out in the cold because the Swiss government walked away from talks on a broader relationship agreement in 2021.

In March this year, Commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič reiterated: “If we are to move forward on new agreements, including one on Horizon Europe, we need to move at the same pace on all underlying issues in our relations.”

Academic organisations across Europe have long complained that the loss of the two countries’ R&I organisations from Horizon Europe has been damaging for the continent as a whole.

Following the agreement with the UK, after a change of government there brought about a more pragmatic approach on resolving the trade dispute that was hampering Horizon talks, Europe’s research organisations have renewed their calls for progress with Switzerland.

‘Glaring omission’

“The UK’s association makes the omission of Switzerland from Horizon Europe as an associated country all the more glaring,” said the Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities, whose 21 members include three universities in the UK, as well as the University of Bern in Switzerland.

“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.”

Science Europe, the association of major research funding and performing organisations, said that it “continues to advocate the crucial importance of international research collaboration and the association of other eligible third countries to the programme, including Switzerland”.

Members of Science Europe include UK Research and Innovation and the Swiss National Science Foundation. Its president Marc Schiltz said: “Over the years, Science Europe has strongly advocated the inclusion of the UK and Switzerland in Horizon Europe, especially in view of their scientific excellence and the contributions of their research organisations.

“We look forward to continue working internationally with our colleagues at UK Research and Innovation, now from a strengthened position. We hope to be in the same situation with Switzerland soon.”

Hope for progress

The Cesaer group of science and technology universities, whose members include four institutions in the UK as well as the Ecole Polytéchnique Fédérale de Lausanne and ETH Zurich in Switzerland, said: “The reintegration of the UK into Horizon Europe…reaffirms the commitment of both the EU and the UK to advancing global scientific excellence. As we celebrate this achievement, we also look forward to further progress in the international scientific community, with hopes for the accession of Switzerland.”

Amid their celebrations, UK research leaders did not forget the long-shared plight of their neighbouring country. Vivienne Stern, chief executive of Universities UK, said on social media: “[This is] a great day for the UK, but we owe it to our Swiss colleagues to keep up the pressure to bring Switzerland back in too.”

This message was “spot on”, said Kurt Deketelaere, secretary-general of the League of European Research Universities, whose members include five UK institutions, as well as the universities of Geneva and Zurich.

He suggested there will be a “window of opportunity” for change after federal elections are held in Switzerland next month, adding, “let’s make use of that”.

Source: Research Professional News

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