On July 19, 2021, State Secretary Martina Hirayama took part in an informal meeting of ministers responsible for research and innovation in the EU member states. At the biannual event, held this time in the Slovenian capital Ljubljana, the participants discussed the implementation of the goals of the new European Research Area at national and European level. They also addressed the question of how Europe would like to shape cooperation in the area of research and innovation with its international partners. Switzerland’s presence and input at this meeting underscored its active commitment to maintaining a strong European Research Area.
The participants at the informal EU ministerial meeting primarily addressed the new strategic and thematic focus to be adopted for research and innovation policy in the European Research Area. They also examined ways in which EU member states and international partners can cooperate in these areas.
The Pact for Research and Innovation, which will in future define the most important jointly agreed values, principles and priority action areas for the European Research Area, was also discussed. The European Commission adopted the Pact proposal on July 16, 2021; the final version should be available by the end of 2021.
At the ministerial meeting, Ms Hirayama stressed the growing importance of European and worldwide cooperation in the field of research and innovation in view of global challenges and the search for long-term answers to them. The examples of cooperation in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and in the field of climate change in particular have demonstrated the benefits that cross-border scientific cooperation brings to societies. It is therefore important to remember the advantages of coordinated political partnership in Europe. Ms Hirayama reiterated that Switzerland is a reliable and valuable partner in research and innovation and is ready to start negotiations on association to the Horizon package.
She also welcomed the fact that gender equality, which the Slovenian presidency has set as a priority, is being addressed as a key issue in the field of research and innovation. This is also in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Ms Hirayama reiterated that Switzerland is a driving force behind the 2030 Agenda and its 17 SDGs, and that research and innovation activities are essential in order to achieve them.
Switzerland’s status in Horizon Europe
Switzerland will be treated as a non-associated third country in the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, Horizon Europe, and its associated programmes and initiatives until further notice. Researchers in Switzerland can still participate in calls for proposals under this status, albeit to a limited extent, and receive funding directly from the Confederation. The Federal Council’s stated aim remains Switzerland’s full association to Horizon Europe.