Switzerland and the European Union have reached an agreement over Swiss participation in the Horizon 2020 research funding programme. It must now be ratified by both governments.
The foreign ministry announced an agreement had been reached but did not detail its contents. Switzerland’s status in the programme was changed to that of a so-called “third country” outside the EU after Swiss voters chose to re-negotiate the terms of the free movement of people agreement on February 9.
Although details aren’t known, it is expected that Switzerland won’t be able to fully participate in the €80 billion (CHF97 billion) research programme going forward because in order to do so, it must fully ratify new EU member Croatia’s participation in the free movement of people agreement.
In late April, the Swiss government decided to allow Croatians into Switzerland under a quota system but without ratifying the free movement protocol.
The newspaper Le Temps reported at the beginning of July that the Swiss negotiating position on Horizon 2020 mainly involved ensuring continued access to ERC grants – highly coveted grants for researchers that Swiss institutions have had above-average participation in.
In exchange, Le Temps reported Switzerland was willing to continue to meet its financial obligations to joint programmes such as the nuclear fusion reactor ITER, the Swiss-EU research cooperation in the Euratom European Atomic Energy Community and the satellite navigation programme Galileo.
It is unknown which, if any, of those elements were contained in the deal struck Saturday between the EU and Swiss parties.
It is known that Switzerland will not be able to partake in Horizon 2020 funding for the remainder of 2014. At the end of June, the Swiss government set aside CHF500 million to support researchers who had been reliant on Horizon 2020 funding.
According to Economics Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann, Switzerland’s goal remains full participation in Horizon 2020.
Meanwhile, no solution has yet been found to another programme the Swiss were locked out of after the February 9 vote: Erasmus+, an EU-wide student exchange programme.