UK-Swiss science deal likely as both lose access to Horizon Europe

© Ruletkka

As the UK and Switzerland continue to be blocked from the Horizon Europe scheme, a UK-Swiss science deal appears more likely

With both countries having been shut out of the EU’s multi-billion pound research programme, a UK-Swiss science deal has been described by Swiss ambassador Markus Leitner as a “political signal”, for researchers to deepen existing ties and find new projects.

UK Science Minister George Freeman said: “Being a science superpower means deepening our international relationships with leading research and development economies like Switzerland.”

Protecting UK-Swiss science, research and innovation

Both nations have been attempting to join the flagship €95.5bn scheme. With the UK’s exit from the EU in January 2020, their access to the programme has been in dispute.

Switzerland has never been a member of the European Union but has a number of bilateral deals with Brussels instead. Full Swiss participation in Horizon has been blocked after Switzerland rejected plans for an overarching treaty with the EU.

As these negotiations have been going on for so long with continuing disputes, a UK-Swiss science deal seems likely. The new deal has plans to focus on areas such as artificial intelligence and turning academic discoveries into start-up businesses.

Ambassador Markus Leitner said the UK-Swiss deal was “separate” from its efforts to join Horizon, which remained a “priority”.

Ongoing disputes with Horizon Europe

The UK’s associate membership to Horizon was agreed upon in principle under a Brexit treaty called the Trade and Co-operation Agreement. However, the European Commission has revealed no binding deadline for the association, which has repeatedly caused discontent with the UK parliament. This could eventually result in the UK pursuing what it describes as its own Plan B to protect the R&D sector.

International agreements would form part of that alternative programme. Jamie Arrowsmith, the head of Universities UK International, welcomed the Swiss deal but said the interests of everybody, including global science, would be “best served by all parties agreeing to remove political impediments, and proceeding to ratify UK and Swiss association to Horizon Europe”.


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