Go back

EU leader rules out Swiss R&D progress before wider movement

Image: European Union / Gabriel Monnet

Commission vice-president says Horizon Europe association is a “priority” but only in a “broader package”

Swiss association to the EU’s research and innovation programme is a “priority” for the European Commission but can only move ahead alongside progress on resolving other differences between Switzerland and the bloc, according to a Commission vice-president.

Maroš Šefčovič (pictured left together with Swiss Federal Council member Ignazio Cassis), who has responsibility for EU relations with Switzerland, said on 15 March that research “would benefit from the EU and Switzerland agreeing on a comprehensive way forward”.

But he indicated that such progress was likely to take at least a year to sign off.

Switzerland has remained outside the 2021-27 Horizon Europe R&I programme since its government ended negotiations on a broad political agreement with the EU in 2021. This has caused consternation among European academia, which has warned it will seriously hamper R&I across the continent.

Speaking at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, Šefčovič said that Swiss association to Horizon Europe “would be a priority in the joint way forward”, but only as “part of the broader package”.

“If we are to move forward on new agreements, including one on Horizon Europe, we need to move at the same pace on all underlying issues in our relations,” he added.

Unresolved issues

These issues include agreeing Swiss alignment with EU market rules, introducing equivalent rules on state subsidies for companies, finding a way to settle disputes on trade and business, and agreeing the Swiss contribution to the EU budget, Šefčovič said.

He acknowledged Swiss concerns about the role of the European Court of Justice in resolving disputes between the two, but said the Commission had listened and that the court would only get involved when asked to do so by an independent tribunal.

Switzerland must now also be sensitive to Commission concerns so that the two sides can reach a compromise, according to the vice-president. He said the EU was ready to agree a series of updated bilateral agreements with the country instead of one overarching agreement, and that these could include exceptions to EU rules that would be specific to Switzerland.

“We can reach a compromise if Switzerland is sensitive to our concerns, notably the impact of our bilateral arrangements for the dynamic within the EU,” Šefčovič said. He added that he hoped negotiations could be concluded by summer 2024 and promised the Commission was “ready to keep its foot on the pedal”.