Horizon Europe*: Swiss budget approved! What's next?

Updated: Jan 11, 2021

The already markedly shrunken research budget of the European Union of €80.9 billion., instead of the original €94.4 bn., will receive a further 7.7% subsidy of its total from Switzerland. The Swiss parliament approved a CHF 6.2 billion (€ 5.5 billion) budget on Dec. 16, 2020. The budget contribution is a substantial one for a small country! It is not simply pulled out of thin air, as EU opponent often claim. For each country, it is measured in terms of gross domestic product. Because Switzerland has the third highest GDP per inhabitant in the OECD, its contribution to EU research is also relatively high. 138 Swiss parliamentarians present, who approved the budget, against 49 (13 absent), wants to make it pay!

This Swiss budget actually is the ticket for the participation of the Swiss in the new, 9th EU research framework program HorizonEurope. The program officially which started on January 1, 2021.

This is the good news! The bad news is that the EU, despite the desperate need, still has to struggle to get the budget. One can argue long and endlessly who will benefit more. One can get lost in endless conjecture about how important research and innovation is right now, in Corona times. The Swiss money is there! Currently still savely stored on a Swiss bank account. Before the money will be transferred, the EU must show a certain flexibility. This "flexibility" is in principle embodied in the hundreds of EU documents since many, many years. However, anyone who has worked with the EU Commission knows that it is only and still after years and years lip service. There might be exceptions. But the author stands fully behind these words with a long term experience observing, how hegemonial intentions of single personalities within the EU Commission DG Research can harm the unity. Flexibility? A dream of the future that must be embraced if the EU does not want to afford itself even more fragmentation? Brexit is just one argument here. 16 Eastern EU member states have signed a treaty with China on common innovation. ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) is also planning a research and innovation program open to the world. So there are alternatives worth considering and investing in the near future, espacially for Switzerland. The wealth of Switzerland, no kidding, is built on internationalisation and some type of inclusion far beyond the thinking and the state-of-art. If I study my class rooms when teaching about fundraising for science, there are 20% compatriots and 80% genius of the PhDs and PostDocs coming form all around the planet, including Nepal, Mynamar, Iran, Burundi and Honduras. It was similar when I was teaching in Great Britain. No comparison to 75% of EU member states.

What is meant by flexibility to get access to the Swiss money, in plain-talking? First: The EU must quickly work out a full hopp-up association agreement to HorizonEurope with Switzerland. Second, it must turn a blind eye to the deadlocked negotiation about the EU-Swiss bilateral institutional agreements. Why can they afford? Because so far, there has hardly been any precedent case, where legal disputes could not have been covered by existing courts. So: let Switzerland participate!

There remains another question: Is this investment actually worthwhile for Switzerland? The answer is relatively simple: If Swiss researchers and innovators can participate fully-associated and undisturbed, as was shown in the 5th - 6th Framework Program, Swiss bring back to their country an above-average amount of the money invested. The Swiss experienced disturbances by their own compatriots, namely the polulists, who mess-up democracy with their referenda, where no one with decent educational beackground can understand anymore; last of all, the Swiss themselves. Perhaps this is also what populists in general want? Because the EU is suitable as an enemy image, relatively easy for despots to destroy. Instead, it is difficult and needs a lot of persuasion to build institutions. Some vain EU project coordinators, the EU and every official EU (and national) exponent should be aware that self-interest harms the institutional community work from within. What was impressive was that before the referenda of the populists in Switzerland, the Swiss researchers brought 1/3 more funding back into their country than what they paid in. After the first referendum, this success story abruptly collapsed. It was a purest, best documented shoot into the own leg of the Swiss to themselves in front of the EU.

The State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) argues in the consultaion papers to the Swiss parliament and on its website that Switzerland would have more patents and innovation as a result of these investments in EU research. It is good that the parliamentarians believe this.-). Unfortunately, it is not so true. These patents, for which Switzerland boasts and through which it is number 1 in the Global Innovation Score Board for many years. The patents are only to a disappearing no part of the universities and SMEs that participate in the EU framework program. But they are from the big industries like Roche, ABB, Novartis, etc.; the majority of which do not participate in EU framework programs. This is often for reasons of uncertainty in sharing intellectual property. Nevertheless, the budget for participation makes sense and is enormously important. On the one hand, because Switzerland - you wouldn't think so! - does not have a program that substantially supports their national startups and SMEs with money. On the other hand, because access to the knowledge community must be given for a tiny little country. Switzerland experienced the effect of being isolated during World War II, where tuberculosis was treated with fresh air in the mountains. It may offend a bit, but we need to say the truth: This was not scientific!

The EU Framework Program networks science for knowledge transfer like no other program in the world. It is worth its weight in gold that navel-gazing has to be put aside at times, and also Swiss are also coming to realise that innovation is also top in many other European countries.

So let's wish Switzerland good luck as a donor that it is allowed to pay. We wish the EU the insight that the Swiss contribution to European innovation is important and that an agreement will be found soon.

Thank you for reading till the end! We wish a a very successful start in the year 2021, HorizonEurope and beyond.


We advise all researchers and companies interested in EU funding to read about the upcoming calls for proposals ONLY on the official EU website: https://ec.europa.eu/info/funding-tenders/opportunities/portal/screen/home (and not on copied national websites).

The SBFI is responsible for the full association of the Swiss researchers. Please follow this page to know more about the timewise association status.

We recommend to all Swiss researches and institutions to participate to open calls for proposals without restrictions and search for solutions to get access to the funding thereafter. The money is there! Sometimes needs to be shifted. The Swiss have shown a great flexibility in that respect, and we thank the SBFI therefore! For a sound strategy to secure the money, let us advise you (researchers, companies and academic institutions) on a hourly basis. We have 20 years of experience in Swiss association and non-association to EU research and have always done well.

More articles about the topic: https://sciencebusiness.net/framework-programmes/news/switzerland-puts-aside-eu55b-future-eu-research-access

*Horizon Europe is a planned 7-year European Union scientific research funding initiative starting on 1st January 2021 and lasting till Dec. 31, 2027. The initiative succeds the Horizon 2020 program (2014-2020). The Horizon initiatives originate in The EU-Framework Programmes for Research, Technology and Development (No-1-7 from 1984-2013). The over all goal of the initiative is/was to make Europe more competitive, by turning research into Euros and make future generations survive in a global context. (We there must mentione: Europe accounts only for 7% of the world market. It's precioud niche and very many times the craddle of science and innovation.-)