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Campaign urges Switzerland to save European R&D links


Switzerland’s national science funder is trying to rally researchers to oppose an anti-immigration bill

The Swiss National Science Foundation is urging researchers to join a campaign emphasising the importance of European R&D collaboration for Switzerland. The rallying cry is a response to a proposal that would limit immigration into the country and which the SNSF says threatens R&D agreements with the EU.

A bill launched by the Swiss People’s Party, which is being put to a public vote on 27 September, “poses a threat to research in Switzerland”, the SNSF said on 20 August.

Adoption of the Limitation Initiative, which demands that the Swiss government suspend freedom of movement between the country and the EU, would “jeopardise two treaties with the EU which are of crucial importance to research in Switzerland: the treaties on the free movement of people and on research”, it said.

The foundation is campaigning against the bill on social media using the hashtag #ScienceNeedsEurope, and is calling on researchers to support its efforts. It said: “The SNSF opposes the initiative and calls on the research community likewise to stand up for Europe-wide scientific cooperation.”

“Both public and private research in Switzerland need free movement,” the SNSF said in a position statement on the bill. “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.”

Agreements with the EU enable researchers in Switzerland to participate fully in the bloc’s 2014-20 R&D programme, Horizon 2020. This participation was temporarily cut early in the programme, after the Swiss public voted in a 2014 referendum not to set up free movement with new EU member state Croatia, before a U-turn enabled full access to Horizon 2020 to be reinstated.

Terms for Switzerland and other non-EU countries to participate in the EU’s 2021-27 R&D programme, Horizon Europe, have yet to be finalised. The Swiss government has set aside funding for participation, and is negotiating a broad framework agreement with the EU to underpin future cooperation.

Meanwhile, the SNSF has continued to strengthen its ties abroad. On 20 August it signed a “lead agency” agreement with the São Paulo Research Foundation, making it possible for researchers from Switzerland and the Brazilian state to submit joint applications to either of the two funding organisations.

Such agreements, already in place between Switzerland and other partner countries including Austria and France, simplify the submission and evaluation of transnational applications. “We are delighted that a lead agency agreement is now in place to make collaboration easier,” said Jean-Luc Barras, head of the SNSF division responsible for institutional relationships.