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Brussels freezes Swiss participation in flagship EU rail project

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Keystone / Valentin Flauraud

The stalled bilateral treaty talks between the European Union and Switzerland have halted Swiss participation in a major project aimed at transforming the European rail system. 

On Tuesday, a spokeswoman for Swiss Federal Railways confirmed a report in the Neue Zuercher Zeitung (NZZ) newspaper that Swiss participation had ground to a halt. The project – known as the European partnership for the transformation of the European rail system – aims at increasing rail traffic in the region by promoting automation and digitalisation to help reduce costs and increase reliability. The goal is to make rail attractive as a low carbon means of transport, particularly for freight transport. It is part of ten new European partnerships eligible for nearly €10 billion (CHF11 billion) of EU funding that the partners will match with at least an equivalent amount of investment. 

According to NZZ, the European Commission has blocked Switzerland’s participation because of the lack of progress on the Swiss-EU institutional framework agreement, which is aimed at simplifying ties between the two sides. It also does not want to enter into discussions on research cooperation until Switzerland has released its second contribution to the EU’s so-called “cohesion fund” for improving living standards in less well-off European states. The funding has been suspended by the Swiss parliament. 

The Swiss research community is anxious that a lack of progress on the framework deal could affect the Alpine nation’s future participation in the Horizon Europe research programme, the follow-up to Horizon 2020. Switzerland’s parliament has rubberstamped the financial package for the Alpine nation’s participation in Horizon Europe. However, Switzerland’s involvement in the EU’s €100 billion research funding scheme is due to be the subject of negotiations between Switzerland and the EU. 

The Alpine nation was temporarily demoted in Horizon 2020 after voters backed migration quotas in 2014. It regained full association status and access to Horizon 2020 three years later after having ratified the free movement of people accord with Croatia.  

Swiss Federal Railways had expressed willingness to participate in the flagship rail project under the Horizon programme by contributing several million more to the partnership.  

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