Research

A laboratory technician labels samples.
The ability to compete and forge ties internationally enhances Switzerland's excellence and standing as a research and innovation hub. © Pixabay

With the conclusion of the research agreement in 1999 as part of Bilaterals I, Switzerland laid the foundation for full participation in the EU Framework Programmes for Research and Innovation (FPRI). The FPRI aim to achieve greater impact and more efficient bundling of European research and innovation efforts, in areas including information and communication technologies, health, energy, nanotechnology, aerospace and the environment.

The Framework Programmes for Research and Innovation (FPRI) are the EU's main instrument for implementing its science and technology policy. They were set up primarily with the aim of boosting innovation on the European continent by linking up Europe's research and innovation capacities across borders. The EU framework programmes are particularly important for Switzerland's international cooperation in research and innovation.

Switzerland and the EU have a long-standing and successful collaboration in the field of research and innovation. As early as 1978, Switzerland concluded a research agreement with the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) in a bid to foster closer research cooperation in Europe. Swiss researchers also began taking part in selected FPRI projects in 1987. Until the end of 2003, researchers at institutions based in Switzerland, being classed as third-country participants, only had limited opportunities to take part and had to be funded directly by the Swiss federal government. From 1 January 2004, an agreement between Switzerland and the EU enabled Switzerland to participate in the 6th FPRI (2003–06) and the Euratom Research and Training Programme as an associated country with all the relevant rights and obligations. Switzerland's full participation in the framework programme as an associated country is based on the Bilateral Agreements I (1999). These include the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons (AFMP) and six other, sectoral agreements, including the research agreement. The FPRI are time-limited, which means that the research agreement is the only agreement of the Bilaterals I that has to be renewed for each generation of the programme.  It was renewed in 2007 for the entire 7th FPRI (2007–13). The 8th FPRI (Horizon 2020) was launched on 1 January 2014 and ran for seven years (until the end of 2020). Horizon 2020 combined the FPRIs, which had previously been running separately, the Euratom programme and the ITER international fusion reactor project. On 5 December 2014, Switzerland and the EU signed an agreement on Switzerland's partial association to Horizon 2020, which applied retroactively from 15 September 2014 to the end of 2016. Switzerland was therefore already taking part as an associated country in some aspects of Horizon 2020 before it became a fully associated member of the entire Horizon 2020 programme, including Euratom, from 1 January 2017.

Horizon Europe: the 9th EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation

The current 9th framework programme, Horizon Europe, runs from 2021 to 2027 and has a total budget of around EUR 95.5 billion. Although it officially launched on 12 May 2021, Horizon Europe came into retroactive effect from 1 January 2021. From a Swiss perspective, this programme together with three other research and innovation initiatives – the Euratom programme, the ITER research infrastructure and the Digital Europe Programme – make up the 'Horizon package (2021–27)'.

The EU views the question of Switzerland's association to the Horizon package in the light of overall relations between Switzerland and the EU. On 12 July 2021, the EU informed the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation that for the time being Switzerland would be treated as a non-associated third country for the purposes of Horizon Europe and other related programmes and initiatives. Even with this status, researchers and innovators in Switzerland can participate in the calls for proposals, albeit to a limited extent, and receive funding directly from the federal government.

Switzerland's full association to the Horizon package remains the Federal Council's declared goal. 

Scientific, technological and economic benefits for Switzerland

Switzerland benefits scientifically, technologically and economically from its participation in the Framework Programmes for Research and Innovation. The FPRI promote  excellent international research and innovation in Switzerland. The ability to compete and forge ties internationally enhances Switzerland's excellence and standing as a research and innovation hub. By participating in the FPRI, Switzerland is involved in world-leading research projects, to which it can contribute vital expertise but which it could not undertake on its own. As well as the considerable financial and other resources on offer, the country also benefits from the cooperation partnerships built up over many years. Switzerland's research and education institutions are firmly embedded in the European Research Area and play an active and prominent role in flagship European projects such as the Human Brain Project and Graphene.

Participation in projects within the research framework programmes leads to greater turnover (approx. 30% of all project participations by corporations and SMEs) and to business start-ups (approx. 10% of all project participations). Just as important are the opportunities to collaborate with European partners, lead international projects and thereby become more competitive.

Timeline

2017

  • Swiss full association to Horizon 2020, the 8th research framework programme (1 January)

2014

  • Swiss partial association to Horizon 2020 (15 September)

2004–13

  • Swiss association to the 6th (2003–06) and 7th (2007–13) research framework programmes, in accordance with the agreements of 16 January 2004 and 25 June 2007 respectively

2002

  • Commencement of the agreement, with Swiss participation initially continuing on a project-by-project basis (1 June)

2000

  • Approval of the agreement by the electorate in the popular vote on Bilaterals I (67.2% in favour) (21 May)

1999

  • Signing of the agreement (in the framework of Bilaterals I) (21 June)