EU ‘takes science hostage’ – stubborn Brussels blocks world leading scientists from scheme

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The Swiss government said on Friday it is seeking to implement transitional measures to make up for research funding shortfalls, as souring ties with the European Union put billions of euros of funding at stake for Swiss scientists.

Researchers at Swiss universities have been on tenterhooks about their ability to join the EU’s Horizon programme, after Switzerland’s decision to pull the plug on a draft treaty binding it more tightly to the European Union, its biggest trading partner, hampered access.

The EU programme “Horizon Europe” supports research and innovation projects. Due to the failed framework agreement, Switzerland is a so-called “non-associated third country”.

According to the federal government, around two-thirds of the programme is therefore accessible to Swiss science. However, they are excluded from individual projects.

“The Federal Council’s goal remains full association to Horizon Europe at the earliest opportunity,” the Swiss government said in a statement.

“However, the EU views the question of Switzerland’s association to Horizon Europe in the context of overall relations between Switzerland and the EU.

“Negotiations are not possible at the present time.”

With a 95 billion euro budget, Horizon Europe is the world’s largest research and innovation funding programme.

Swiss President Guy Parmelin warned that if the negotiations are still blocked in four years, the whole continent will lose out.

He said: “That would mean that science would be taken hostage.”

In principle, the Federal Department of Economics, Education and Research (EAER) wants to replace European tenders.

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The Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) is commissioned to make money available for research projects.

The EAER writes that the interim solutions should be based “as far as possible on the European tenders”.

Parliament will discuss this in this year’s winter session. For its part, the EAER will also involve actors other than the SNSF in finding solutions.

The Commission’s attempts to exclude the UK and other non-EU states from the Horizon programme was roundly criticised by European academics.

In March, Thomas Hofmann, the president of the Technical University of Munich, wrote: “The latest proposal by the European Commission to exclude longstanding and trustful partner countries like Switzerland, Israel and the United Kingdom from parts of the research programme is not in the interest of Europe’s research community nor the wider society and could be damaging for international cooperation.”

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Klaus Ensslin, professor of solid-state physics at ETH Zurich, told Science Business: “Everyone’s shocked.

“We’ve never seen anything like this. This is not good for us, not good for the field, and not good for the EU.”

Nadav Katz, a quantum physicist who runs the Quantum Coherence Lab at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, also warned the move would not be in the EU’s best interest.

He said: “There have been certain indications that something like this had been building up. But this was quite dramatic.

“This is not in Europe’s interest.”

He continued: “The EU has been very wise to include neighbouring countries in its research programmes over the years. Pushing them away is not good policy. These are countries that give more than they take.

“The European landscape will be greyer and dimmer without their participation.”

Additional reporting by Monika Pallenberg

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