Universities

Swiss and UK universities team up to lobby EU for access to Horizon

The UK and Switzerland have lost access to the Europe-wide scientific research program known as Horizon Europe. The UK gave up when it left the EU and Switzerland when bilateral talks with the EU collapsed last year.

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The program supports large projects that would not be possible at the national level. More is more when it comes to making progress in many areas of scientific advancement.

In a bid to mend the cracks in European scientific research, EPFL in Lausanne and ETH in Zurich have joined a campaign launched by a group of UK universities called “Stick to Science”, which aims to convince the EU that scientific collaboration must be above politics, RTS reported.

Part of the campaign includes a petition. The movement invites the European scientific community to sign the online petition. Organizers argue that the current fragmented situation prevents researchers from working together to improve global issues such as climate change, pandemics and food security.

The signatories urge the EU, the UK and Switzerland to conclude Association Agreements so that both countries can contribute scientifically and financially to the strength of Horizon Europe and to a truly open, inclusive European Research Area and focused on excellence.

If reinstated, the UK and Switzerland would together increase funding for the program by 19 billion francs, which is about 18% of the program’s funding, according to the organizing committee.

So far, 250 leading scientists have signed the petition, including at least 12 Nobel laureates, entrepreneurs and university leaders.

Didier Queloz, who won the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics, said a solution had to be found to the impasse. It is in no one’s interest to prevent scientific collaboration at European level, he told RTS. Scientific research should not be subject to political wrangling, he said. Policy needs to be more forward-looking, rather than following its tendency to focus on the short term, he said.

Queloz wants science to be removed from European agreements and no longer used as an instrument of political bargaining. Interfering with science ruins Europe’s long-term success, he argues. Excluding Switzerland will deprive Switzerland and Europe of talent, according to the physicist.

ETH President Joël Mesot said that today more than ever, solving global problems requires collaboration. Science wants and must play a role, for example, in preventing future pandemics or mitigating the effects of climate change. Switzerland and the UK are scientific heavyweights who are denied full access to Horizon Europe for political reasons. With this initiative, we want to draw attention to the fact that this situation is not in the best interests of Switzerland or Europe. And this view is shared by universities, research institutes and scientific networks across Europe, he said.

According to Mesot, Switzerland has a good network of important contacts in the United States and Asia. However, these contacts cannot replace our links with the European research community. Projects such as solutions for smart and stable grids in a CO2-free energy economy are things we will not develop primarily with Asia, but rather with Europe, he said.

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