EU gives cold shoulder to Swiss weather forecasters

The main MeteoSwiss measuring centre in Payerne, canton Vaud. © Keystone / Jean-christophe Bott

MeteoSwiss, which had been part of a European project to develop a virtual model of the Earth, has been excluded due to the tensions around the ditched framework agreement between Bern and Brussels.

This content was published on December 9, 2021 minutes

The European Union (EU)’s “Destination EarthExternal link” aims to build a “digital twin” of our planet using continually updated weather and climate-related data – all with the goal of having a state-of-the-art source of models and forecasts to better predict natural disasters and environmental change, as well as simply give a better picture of the weather.

MeteoSwiss, the Swiss federal meterology and climatology office, will not however be part of the project, media have reported. According to the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, the decision to exclude the Swiss was directly related to the breakdown of negotiations with Brussels on an overarching framework agreement in May – a dispute which has also since led to exclusion from other major EU projects such as the Horizon Research programme and the Erasmus+ student exchange scheme.

Speaking to Swiss public radio, RTS, on Thursday morning, Isabelle Bey, head of the MeteoSuisse office in Geneva, said the exclusion will have an impact, particularly on “the quality of forecasts in the medium and long term”.

“We regularly measure the quality of our predictions and we know that they are steadily improving,” she said. “That’s solely as a result of the range of innovations and applied research which we implement.” She said exclusion from the Destination Earth project will mean “falling behind and losing know-how”.

Who knows how

As for how Switzerland plans to make up for the lost expertise, parliamentarians in Bern last week approved a CHF870,000 ($942,000) budget boost for MeteoSwiss, the NZZ reports. One of them, the Centre party’s Beat Rieder, even told the paper it wasn't a question of the Swiss missing out on EU expertise, but the other way around: “When Brussels doesn’t want our know-how, then we’ll take care of the weather ourselves”, Rieder said.

The government was meanwhile less keen to shore up MeteoSwiss: “In our view, the budget increase is not urgently necessary at this point in time,” Finance Minister Ueli Maurer told Senators. Parliamentarians themselves, however, were strongly in favour.

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