Switzerland is pushing hard to be a key player on the European research front. A new, national coordinating office has opened in Bern to ensure that Swiss scientists get their fair share of European Union funding from next year, when a series of bilateral accords are due to be ratified by EU member states.
Euresearch will inform scientists about EU research programmes and offer advice about how to apply for funding.
"We need to tell people how to write a proposal so they have a good chance of success in Brussels," said Dr Olivier Küttel, director of Euresearch. "It will be tough because all countries in Europe would like to get their money back but I think we're going to make it."
Switzerland invests about SFr100 million a year to participate in European research programmes. The figure is set to double after the signing of the bilateral accords, with Bern contributing about SFr230 million to Brussels.
The authorities are keen to encourage Swiss scientists to successfully apply for EU funding and get a return on their investment. Currently, only 20 per cent of projects presented to the EU are accepted.
Traditionally, Swiss scientists have found themselves at a disadvantage when it comes to participation in EU research projects. The government is hopeful that there will be significant improvements as soon as the bilateral agreements are ratified.
"For the time being, when Swiss researchers want to work on a European programme, they have to find two other partners and they can't be the leader of the group," explained Charles Kleiber, secretary of state for science.
"Now it's going to change. We need only one partner and we can be the leader of the group."
There have also been problems organising some European conferences in Switzerland and difficulties for Swiss researchers trying to work in EU countries. Above all, Switzerland will now be able to take part in the decision-making process.
"We will be able to have Swiss experts in European commissions deciding about European research," said Professor John C Badoux, president of the Swiss Network for Innovation. "Effectively, we are going to be full members of the European Union when it comes to research."
At present, Switzerland participates in about a quarter of EU scientific programmes. The aim is to double that figure.
Until now, Swiss scientists, hoping to participate in EU research projects, have been able to get advice through universities and a liaison office in Brussels.
by Vincent Landon