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ERC president ‘fervently hopes’ to welcome back Switzerland

Image: Michael Wodak, MedizinFotoKöln 

Maria Leptin also praises European Research Council’s bottom-up contributions to solving EU problems

Maria Leptin, president of the European Research Council, has said she is “fervently” hoping that Switzerland will rejoin the bloc’s research and innovation funding programme and therefore the ERC.

The EU barred Switzerland from associating to its various programmes when the Swiss government walked away from talks on a broad cooperation agreement with the bloc in May 2021. But association talks resumed in March, reigniting hopes that Swiss researchers will soon regain almost full access to EU programmes, including the Horizon Europe R&I programme.

Leptin said in a foreword to the ERC’s 2023 annual report, published on 30 April, that she and the ERC’s other leaders “fervently hope that Switzerland will soon” associate to Horizon Europe. Association would enable researchers in Switzerland to once again receive funding from the ERC, in exchange for an overall budget contribution to Horizon Europe from the Swiss government.

Leptin said she was pleased that a deal was reached on UK association to Horizon Europe in 2023, after it was locked out due to political disputes following Brexit.

“The ERC is thrilled to be welcoming back researchers based in the UK: they have been missed and can apply again as from the 2024 competitions,” she said.

Achievements hailed

Leptin also hailed the achievements of the ERC in 2023, when it selected 1,240 projects to fund with over €2.3 billion.

She praised the ERC’s philosophy that researchers know best when it comes to the areas that are most promising to explore. “The outcomes of the research funded by the ERC have demonstrated the amazing creativity and talent of Europe’s researchers when they are given the freedom to propose their best ideas,” she said.

She added that ERC-funded researchers “often contribute unwittingly” to many of the wider goals of the EU, such as the green and digital transitions.

And she pointed out that ERC researchers are “training the next generation of excellent scientists” and have employed over 100,000 other researchers, mainly PhD candidates and postdocs, in their teams.

Research commissioner Iliana Ivanova also heaped praise on the achievements of the ERC in the report. “The ERC stands as a beacon of scientific excellence, empowering our researchers to explore uncharted territories and unravel the mysteries of the universe,” she said.

Ivanova acknowledged that the competition for funding from Horizon Europe, especially the ERC, is “tough”. But she encouraged researchers to keep on applying to the prestigious funder so that the bloc can “benefit from the wide European talent pool…to find solutions to our biggest challenges”.