Swiss pushed aside in first year of Horizon 2020By Laura Greenhalgh—26-02-2014
Switzerland will be unable to participate as a full member in either Horizon 2020 or Erasmus+ during 2014, the EU commissioner for employment has said.
Speaking in the European Parliament this morning (26 February), commissioner László Andor said that the pause in negotiations on Switzerland’s participation in Horizon 2020 will have significant implications for Swiss researchers looking to win funds this year. Discussions on the country’s involvement in both Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ were suspended earlier this month, after a vote by Swiss citizens to limit the free movement of EU citizens.
“In the absence of an agreement on Horizon 2020, Switzerland does not participate as an associated country,” Andor told MEPs. “This means that for 2014 calls for proposals, the participation of Swiss entities will be according to the provisions governing the participation of third countries.”
According to these rules, Swiss organisations will be unable to host individuals funded by the European Research Council, or win grants awarded under the SME instrument. Swiss researchers will still be able to take part in collaborative research projects but the country must fund its own participation and projects will need to include three further EU member states or associated countries to meet the eligibility criteria.
However, Swiss researchers will still be able to act as project coordinators for collaborative research grants, because “the place of establishment is irrelevant for a consortium’s choice of a coordinator”, the Commission has confirmed in a statement this morning.
Meanwhile, the country will also be prevented from participating fully in the Erasmus+ programme for student and researcher exchange during 2014, said the commissioner.
“For Erasmus+, Switzerland has now missed the time for the 2014 grant award decisions,” said the commissioner. “This means that for 2014, Switzerland will not participate on equal footing—participation will be limited to cooperation activities, as with any third country.”
The statement by the commissioner is the first clarification of the impact that the Swiss referendum will have on researchers in the country. The vote, take on 9 February, supported plans to place immigration quotas for EU citizens—with the result that Switzerland has since been unable to sign an agreement to extend free movement to Croatia, the EU’s newest member state.
Because the EU explicitly referenced the signing of this agreement in its mandate for negotiating Switzerland’s involvement in Horizon 2020, talks on the EU research programme have been suspended.
Both sides have since stated that they are fully committed to finding a solution to the impasse, to enable Switzerland to continue its involvement in programmes including Horizon 2020. However, EU-Swiss discussions are waiting on a legal review being undertaken by Switzerland to determine its position, which should be completed in early April.
Should negotiations be completed later in 2014 leading to Switzerland’s association in Horizon 2020, the rules on Swiss participation will revert immediately to allow them to be funded as an associate member, says the Commission.
Speaking at the plenary session in Strasbourg this morning, many MEPs said that whilst it was important to respect the Swiss vote, free movement was a fundamental principle of the EU, and countries could not be permitted to pick and choose the extent of their involvement with the Union. “The free movement act was a central element between Switzerland and EU, and not just a side programme,” said Hannes Svoboda, an Austrian MEP representing the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats. “We will not accept them cancelling this agreement.”
Some have suggested that the terms of the Swiss vote means that the government could develop a system of quotas, under which groups such as scientists may still be afforded free movement. However, Irish MEP Mairead McGuinness from the European People’s Party said that a solution on the basis of quotas was “not possible”, because it would be against European principles.
Some MEPs were more aggressive in their reaction, with German MEP Daniel Cohn-Bendit stating it was up to Switzerland, and not the EU, to find a solution to the problem. “They will come back to us on their knees, because they need the EU,” said Cohn-Bendit. “Over 60 per cent of Swiss exports go to the EU. You cannot have your cake and eat it, too.”
However, British conservative MEP Vicky Ford pointed out that Switzerland’s participation in EU research benefitted both parties, since the country contributes financially to the Framework programme, and is scientifically excellent. “Any attempt to sanction Switzerland by limiting their participation in science and research could be detrimental to us all,” she said.
Ford also highlighted that Switzerland was not the only country that was reassessing its relationship with the EU. “Europe is changing. If we want to keep everyone in the single market, we will need to allow some flexibility,” she said. “The reaction to this will be watched across Europe—it would be foolish to retaliate too harshly.”