European policy

The SNSF promotes research collaboration with Europe. This bolsters science and the economy, and benefits everyone living in Switzerland.

Horizon Europe: SNSF transitional measures starting October

Switzerland is currently a non-associated third country in relation to the EU's Horizon research and innovation programme. Based on a government mandate, the SNSF has set up transitional measures to support researchers.

News 24.09.2021 “Horizon Europe: SNSF transitional measures starting October”

Switzerland's participation in Horizon Europe, 4 August 2021

According to the EU Commission and the Swiss government, Switzerland will be treated for the time being as a non-associated third country in the EU's Horizon Europe framework programme for research and innovation and associated programmes and initiatives.

Like the economy, Swiss science also needs a stable legal framework and integration into international networks in order to be successful. The Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) therefore supports a timely and full association of Switzerland to the new Horizon Europe framework programme.

Horizon Europe is the world's largest international programme for research and innovation. It enables research projects that no European country could implement on its own. Alternatives to Horizon Europe would entail higher costs and many years of development work for Switzerland. Switzerland collaborated in the development of Horizon Europe within the scope of the research agreement with the firm intention of contributing to its success at a later stage.

The SNSF is closely following the association of non-EU countries to European programmes. If necessary, it could quickly create substitute offers, within its range of possibilities and based on a corresponding mandate and budget from the federal government. However, such national measures cannot fully replace all aspects of the EU Framework Programme.

The State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) is currently drafting a mandate for the SNSF to implement a suitable transition solution for the 2021 calls for ERC Advanced Grants (AdG) and MSCA Postdoctoral Fellowships. These instruments will be aligned as closely as possible with the ERC AdG and MSCA calls, but with independent deadlines for submission. The measure developed will be submitted to the Federal Council and Parliament as part of the credit and budget process. SERI will provide further information in due course.

If researchers and innovators have obtained Horizon Europe project funding from an institution in an EU member state or an associated third country and transfer to an institution in Switzerland, as long as Switzerland is a non-associated third country, SERI will directly fund these researchers and innovators (so-called transfer grants). This applies to re-searchers and innovators in individual projects (namely ERC Starting Grants (StG), Consolidator Grants (CoG), AdG) as well as to collaborative projects.

Switzerland's association to Horizon Europe and related programmes and initiatives as soon as possible remains the declared goal of the Federal Council. SERI will provide information on the 2022 calls for proposals in due course.

In May 2021, the Federal Council broke off negotiations on a framework agreement with the EU. Prior to this, the Federal Council had invited the SNSF to submit a statement in March 2019 as part of the consultations on the institutional agreement between Switzerland and the European Union.

EU Framework Programmes for Research

The SNSF regards the EU Framework Programmes as central to the international success of Swiss research and innovation. It has commented on these programmes in its position papers.

Research collaboration with Europe threatened by "Limitation Initiative"

The federal popular initiative "For moderate immigration (Limitation Initiative)" demanded that the Federal Council suspend the agreement on free movement with the European Union. The SNSF and Swiss universities recommended rejecting the initiative – as did the Federal Council and parliament.

The initiators of the initiative were prepared to accept the unravelling of the bilateral agreements I. This would have threatened two agreements with the EU that are crucial to maintaining Switzerland's position as a world leader in education, research and innovation: the agreement on free movement and the agreement on research.

Both public and private research in Switzerland need free movement. It makes hiring researchers in Europe a simple task for Swiss institutions. Many Swiss researchers also benefit from free movement: they can easily work in other European countries to expand their knowledge and experience.

The research agreement is also part of the bilateral agreements: it allows researchers in Switzerland to participate in the European research framework programmes and to engage in cross-border collaboration with the best teams in Europe. Such collaboration is a key driver of future scientific success. It offers the only means of tackling global challenges such as climate change. Thanks to the EU framework programmes, we can reach goals that would not be achievable if countries acted on their own or in a small group. Network analyses of the EU show that Switzerland is at the heart of European collaboration.

In addition, the selection processes of the EU framework programmes allow Swiss researchers to compete with the brightest minds. This strengthens the global competitiveness of Swiss research and enhances Switzerland's appeal as a place to work for researchers from abroad. It also serves as a benchmark of our strengths and weaknesses.

Accepting the Limitation Initiative would have spelled the end for the agreement on free movement, and therefore also for the research agreement. Such a deterioration of the framework conditions would have had far-reaching consequences for research in Switzerland.

The initiative was rejected by 61.7 per cent of the electorate.

SNSF position on the Self-Determination Initiative 2018

On 25 November 2018, Switzerland voted on the initiative "Swiss law, not foreign judges" (Self-Determination Initiative). This initiative aimed to enshrine in the Constitution that Swiss law must always take precedence over international laws. Only binding international law would have been exempted.

In the event of a conflict between international law and any new Swiss law, Switzerland would have to withdraw from the corresponding international agreements. And because of the so-called 'guillotine clause', the bilateral agreements might also have been jeopardised, with direct repercussions for Swiss research. This would have put at risk, in particular, the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons, including researchers, and the research agreements with the EU.

The Swiss National Science Foundation feared that the Self-Determination Initiative would cause instability and legal uncertainty. This would have been detrimental to the Swiss economy and Switzerland's prosperity.​