27th Oct 2016

EU suspends Swiss talks on research and education

  • The Cern nuclear research centre in Switzerland. Tenders under the Horizon 2020 programme opened in December (Photo: oalsaker)

EU-Swiss talks on EU-funded research and education programmes have been suspended following Bern's refusal to sign a reciprocal work permit deal with Croatia.

“There was another round of negotiations due and we had said it wouldn’t take place until Switzerland had signed the protocol with Croatia,” European Commission spokesman Joe Hennon told this website on Monday (17 February).

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Hennon says both the research programme Horizon 2020 and its Erasmus+ student exchange is conditioned on free movement.

The move to suspend talks follows a decision by Switzerland on Saturday to not allow in Croat workers. The move comes after its recent referendum decision to curb migration.

“The agreement with Croatia cannot be signed in the form that was agreed on due to the new constitutional provision provided by the February 9 vote," said Swiss government spokesman Philipp Schwander.

The referendum, passed by a narrow margin, asked Swiss lawmakers to put forward plans within the next three years to limit the number of foreigners who enter the land-locked country.

The Swiss government is set to outline over the summer how it intends to implement the reforms, which could affect over a million EU citizens who live in Switzerland and its 230,000 cross border daily commuters.

About 430,000 Swiss live in the EU.

Meanwhile, calls for tenders for the EU’s multi-billion Horizon2020 programme kicked off in December.

At least three EU member states or associated countries are needed to form a consortium partnership in order to be eligible for the research grants.

But with negotiations suspended on making Switzerland an associated country in Horizon2020, calls made in December involving Swiss researchers may be in jeopardy.

“We need to have an agreement in place or know what the situation is in terms of what Switzerland wants to do in potentially funding its own research,” said European commission spokesperson for research Michael Jennings.

Students are also likely to be affected.

Over 2,700 Swiss students benefited from the Erasmus programme between 2011 and 2012, with another 3,150 set to benefit in the next academic year.

The Swiss referendum, brokered by the rightwing populist Swiss People's Party (SVP), could trigger a wider so-called guillotine clause that would suspend other EU pacts.

The EU and Switzerland are bound by more than one hundred bilateral agreements.

The two signed a free trade agreement in 1972 followed by a pact in 1999 which covers the free movement of persons, technical trade barriers, public procurement, agriculture and air and land transport.

A second package signed in 2004 covers areas such as Switzerland's participation in Schengen, EU asylum laws, and agreements on taxation of savings and combatting fraud.

A poll published on Sunday in the Sonntags Blick newspaper suggests 74 percent of people surveyed oppose ending the EU agreements.

Switzerland is the EU’s third largest trading partner, after the US and China, and ahead of Russia and Japan.

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