Swiss researchers and organizations will now be able to fully participate in Horizon 2020, the European Union’s research and innovation funding program, on equal terms with entities from EU member states and other associated countries. This is because on 1 January 2017, Switzerland became fully associated to Horizon 2020. Until now, Switzerland has only been associated to parts of the program.
Horizon 2020 is an EU research and innovation program with nearly €80 billion of funding available over 7 years (2014 to 2020) – in addition to the private investment that this money will attract. By coupling research and innovation, Horizon 2020 has an emphasis on excellent science, industrial leadership and tackling societal challenges. The goal is to ensure Europe produces world-class science, removes barriers to innovation and makes it easier for the public and private sectors to work together in delivering innovation.
The new change that came into place at the beginning of this year is due to Swiss ratification, on Friday 16 December 2016, of the protocol extending the EU-Switzerland ‘free movement of persons’ agreement to Croatia, which was the condition for Swiss association to all areas of Horizon 2020. Carlos Moedas, commissioner for research, science and innovation, said, “Switzerland has now fulfilled the EU’s condition on free movement of people and can be fully associated to Horizon 2020. This is good news for Switzerland, and good news for the EU. It will further strengthen our scientific communities and our very substantial cooperation in research and innovation.”
EU President Jean-Claude Juncker welcomed the ratification of the protocol, saying that this long awaited decision will allow Croatia to become a full member of the agreement and hence Croatia’s citizens will fully benefit of the free movement of persons.
Impact for Swiss startups and innovation
The most important change for startups is that Swiss companies can benefit from the Horizon 2020 SME (small and medium sized enterprise) instrument.
According to startupticker.ch the previous partial association had several disadvantages for Swiss SMEs and startups. An important disadvantage was the uncertainty regarding the role of Swiss companies in Horizon 2020 projects. Another very important disadvantage was that Swiss companies were excluded from the SME instrument which was launched in 2014 to support innovative SME. Now, with the ratification and associated country status, Swiss startups and SMEs are eligible to participate and receive funding from the European Commission.
With about € 3 billion in funding available over the period 2014-2020, the SME instrument helps high-potential SMEs to develop groundbreaking innovative ideas for products, services or processes that are ready to face global market competition. Available to SMEs only, the new scheme has opened a new highway to innovation through phased, progressive and complementary support.
Switzerland’s participation to date
Cooperation in research, science and innovation between the European Union and Switzerland has a long history, and Swiss researchers and organizations have been active participants in successive EU framework program for research and innovation.
From 15 December 2014 to 31 December 2016, Switzerland has been associated to parts of Horizon 2020 (actions under the “excellent science” pillar, containing the European Research Council, future and emerging technologies, research infrastructures and the Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions, as well as in actions under the specific objective “Spreading excellence and widening participation”), the research and training program of Euratom and the activities carried out by the European joint undertaking for ITER and the development of fusion for energy for 2014-2020.
Despite only partial association, Swiss participation in Horizon 2020 has been high. So far, there are 1,333 participations from Switzerland in 1,001 signed grant agreements, which ranks Switzerland at first place among the associated countries in terms of participations.
The full association enabled now also extends to cover the Euratom programme (2014-2018) complementing Horizon 2020, and the activities carried out by Fusion for Energy (F4E)/ITER (until 31 December 2020).
[Top image: Visual showing a tokamak, a project under ITER, one of the programs opened up to Switzerland within Horizon 2020. The tokamak is an experimental machine designed to harness the energy of fusion. Inside a tokamak, the energy produced through the fusion of atoms is absorbed as heat in the walls of the vessel. Just like a conventional power plant, a fusion power plant will use this heat to produce steam and then electricity by way of turbines and generators. Click here for more information.]