With or without a Framework Agreement: The EU leadership tries to put Switzerland under pressure whenever it wants something from us — in true great power style. The current issue is the “Horizon Europe” research programme: Switzerland would only be allowed to participate as a full member if it released the promised 1,3 billion in cohesion payments beforehand, Brussels says. The Federal Council was somewhat hasty in promising the rapid payment, knowing quite well that Parliament could put a spoke in its wheel. This has now been accomplished by the Office of the Council of States, at least for the next few months. This is not a catastrophe, because Switzerland is one of the world’s best research centres and can dock on to Horizon even without an agreement. The false allegation that the Federal Council does not have a plan B for the Framework Agreement does not become true by repetition. The Federal Council has long since given the answer: there is not one, but many plans B in the back pocket.
For years it was said that full association with Horizon Europe would only be possible if Switzerland agreed to the Institutional Framework Agreement. Now that the Federal Council has scuttled the agreement, the EU is quickly pulling out another instrument of exerting pressure and thus tacitly accepting the burial of the agreement – apparently it is not without alternative after all! Now Brussels is linking access to “Horizon Europe” to the payment of the cohesion billions. Yet the CHF 1,3 billion, spread over ten years, would flow into the EU’s pot of money since long ago if the EU had not repeatedly imposed punitive measures against Switzerland that violated the law and the agreement. Parliament approved the funds in December 2019, but then put their disbursement on hold as a reaction to the non-recognition of the Swiss stock exchange by the EU – another means of pressure from Brussels to force the framework agreement.
Switzerland remains an attractive centre of research
even as a “non-associated third country”
Despite all the prophecies of doom from the EU turbos, Switzerland’s position as a centre of research is apparently not in danger, even though the European Commission (EC) announced on 12 July that “Switzerland will have the status of a non-associated third country for all calls for proposals in 2021”.1 The excited buzz in the press and in some universities about this news seems somewhat artificial, since the EC had been threatening this decision for some time, and Switzerland was well prepared for it.
In any case, the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) comments on the announcement from Brussels in a completely unagitated manner: “In this mode, researchers in Switzerland can also participate in ‘Horizon Europe’ and related programmes and initiatives and apply for the programme components and funding instruments open to them. As a rule, however, they do not receive funding for their project costs from the EC. Wherever participation is possible, funding is provided by SERI. Parliament has already decided on the financing of Swiss participation in the Horizon-package to the tune of CHF 6.15 billion [!] as well as the possibility of direct financing of researchers in Switzerland.”2 So everything’s hunky-dory!
The President of the ETH Board, Michael Hengartner, does not express his fears very convincingly in an interview with the “Tages-Anzeiger”: “It is well known in the EU that we have excellent researchers who offer added value. But what is the added value if there are problems with Brussels afterwards? It is more complicated for everyone, and we have become less attractive as a partner.” Michael Hengartner fears that talented young people might “prefer a more stable environment in the future”.3
That self-organised dealing with the bureaucratic jungle in Brussels might be more complicated is probably true. But the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation SERI has already gained experience with this after Switzerland’s exclusion from the student exchange programme “Erasmus plus” (as a “punishment” in breach of the treaty for the Swiss vote in favour of the mass immigration initiative in 2014). Switzerland organised the student exchange itself, which went very well after a short time – and we also saved money!
So why should Swiss universities be “less attractive” with self-organised research cooperation? For the ETH Zurich in particular, there is a question mark here: It is one of the best universities in the world (according to the QS World University Ranking 2020, it ranks 6th worldwide and 1st in continental Europe4). Where should young people from the EU region find a more “stable environment” than in Switzerland? Immigration to Swiss universities has increased sharply since the agreement on the free movement of persons with the EU, and a considerable proportion of lecturers and students come from abroad. It cannot be assumed that this will change due to the lack of full association with “Horizon Europe”.
“We will not let ourselves be pushed in the Council of States”.
Swiss Federal President Guy Parmelin already pointed out in May that the EU itself has a vital interest in research cooperation and trade with Switzerland: “If the EU were to refuse Switzerland participation in the Horizon research programme, for example, this would weaken Europe as a research location compared to Asia or the USA. Needle pricks would do no one any good.” For this reason, the Federal Council would not react with countermeasures to any punitive actions by the EU: “Such games do not fit in with our policy. We work for the interest of our citizens, which often also corresponds to the interest of the population in the EU.”5
It is certainly reasonable for the Federal Council to refrain from a tit-for-tat response — but to offer a gift as a reaction to a pinprick of the coarser kind, namely the swift payment of the second cohesion billion, is a bit excessive. Moreover, the Federal Council is once again making the mistake of promising something that is not even within its competence.
For it is the parliament that is responsible for lifting the blockade. The National Council will discuss the release of the “cohesion billion” in the autumn session, the Council of States then in the winter session. Now, however, the Federal Council is urging the two chambers to deal with the bill under the urgent procedure, i. e., to reach an agreement within the three-week autumn session. Alex Kuprecht, President of the Council of States, is opposing this. He heads the five-member office of the Council of States, which is responsible for drawing up the session programmes. It has spoken out against an urgent procedure. This is because in the Swiss bicameral system, the rule is that business is dealt with in only one of the Councils per session, and then in the second Council in the next session. This procedure is “part of serious legislation”, says Alex Kuprecht, President of the Council of States. “We in the Council of States do not allow ourselves to be rushed”, because such an important issue requires a well-founded discussion.6
The Council of States is right not to let the Federal Council interfere with its affairs! •
1 State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI). “Horizon Europe: Switzerland currently with third country status” Press release of 14 July 2021
2 State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI). “Horizon Europe: Switzerland currently with third country status” Press release of 14 July 2021
3 Sturzenegger, Martin. “ETH zu Ausschluss von Horizon – Besteht das Risiko, dass die ETH ihre besten Köpfe verliert? ‘Ja’”.(ETH on exclusion from Horizon - Is there a risk that ETH will lose its best brains? 'Yes'). Interview with ETH-Ratspräsident Michael Hengartner». In: Tages- Anzeiger of 15 July 2021
4 Staub, Norbert. “Etabliert an der Spitze” (Established at the top). News of the ETH Zurich of 10 June 2020
5 “Beziehung Schweiz und EU. Parmelin: Bundesrat will keine Spielchen” (Relationship between Switzerland and the EU. Parmelin: Federal Council does not want to play games). SRF News of 30 May 2021
6 Burckhardt, Philipp. “Zahlungen an EU-Staaten. Kohäsionsmilliarde: Der Ständerat hat es nicht eilig” (Payments to EU states. Cohesion billion: The Council of States is in no hurry). SRF News of 3 August 2021
mw. From the viewpoint of the subject, it would be desirable to release the cohesion funds soon – without pressure from Brussels, of course! – because they are intended for a meaningful purpose. Most of them are to be utilized to vocational training projects in the new EU member states: Bulgaria, Estonia, Croatia, Lithuania, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Cyprus. For the youth in these countries, support from Switzerland which is skilled in vocational education and training, would be a boon, especially in the rough times of the pandemic. According to the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs FDFA, Switzerland decides autonomously on the projects to be supported: “Switzerland accompanies the project selection process in the partner country, examines the calls for proposals and monitors project implementation.”
By launching the projects as soon as possible, Switzerland can achieve two goals: it fulfils its obligation as a neutral and prosperous country towards the less fortunate people of this world, and it makes friends within the EU.
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