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Swiss-Israeli research gets boost

Couchepin (right) met Israeli Science Minister Matan Vilnai


Swiss Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin, who is on a trip to Israel, has signed a declaration aimed at reinforcing scientific cooperation between the two countries.

Scientists in Switzerland have welcomed the move, saying that closer collaboration should "open doors".

Couchepin and the Israeli science minister, Matan Vilnai, signed the formal declaration of intention in Jerusalem on Thursday.

Both ministers praised the high quality of research in Switzerland and Israel, with Couchepin adding that the accord would boost relations between universities.

"It's a further step, from government to government," he said.

The minister, who also holds the science portfolio, said that Israel devoted the highest amount of its gross national product (GNP) to research - 4.8 per cent - in the world.

"Switzerland, which has ambitions in this area, should collaborate with Israel," said Couchepin.

The two countries have designated two experts to identify possible sectors for collaboration. A report should be ready by the end of May next year.

Access to funding should also be made easier, said Couchepin.

Open doors

Swiss scientists have reacted positively to the news. Marcel Tanner, director of the Basel-based Swiss Tropical Institute, who is accompanying Couchepin to Israel, said that the declaration should "open doors".

It should give a framework for maintaining common standards in research and help ease the registering of new medications and diagnostics with the authorities, he said.

Couchepin, whose trip is specifically aimed at boosting scientific ties, also visited the renowned Weizmann Institute of Science near Tel Aviv on Thursday. Before that he held talks with Culture and Education Minister Limor Livnat.

Couchepin's four-day trip to Israel has come under fire from some quarters in Switzerland over fears that dealing with the Israelis could undermine the country's standing in the Middle East.

Quizzed over the lack of contact with the Palestinians during his visit, Couchepin said that the trip was aimed at scientific issues.

But he did stress that it was necessary to meet the Palestinian authorities to talk about education and schooling.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin is visiting Israel from September 15–18.

The main aim is to reinforce scientific cooperation between the two countries.
Culture and education will also be discussed.

Couchepin is accompanied by many senior scientists, including Olaf Kübler, president of the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, and Marcel Tanner, director of the Swiss Tropical Institute.

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