Leading European organisations call for the UK and Switzerland to rejoin EU research and innovation programmes
The research community in Europe has rallied behind the Stick to Science campaign, set up in February to push for a rapid resolution to the exclusion of Switzerland and the United Kingdom from EU research and innovation programmes. Association of both countries to Horizon Europe is currently blocked because of political differences in other areas.
The war in Ukraine has understandably taken attention away from political differences between the EU and its neighbours, but supporters of Stick to Science argue that it should also focus minds on finding a solution.
“If we look at the current situation in the world, as dramatic and as shocking as it is, it becomes clear that free and open societies have to join forces from a political perspective in order to make progress in scholarship and science possible,” says Georg Schütte, chief executive of the Volkswagen Foundation and a former state secretary for research in Germany. “And the scientific communities in the UK, in Switzerland, and within the EU member states need each other.”
The campaign has collected more than 5,000 signatures from 72 countries, including endorsements from more than 250 leading organisations from the world of science. These range from research funders and academies, to university alliances and international research centres. The call for action has also been heard in the media, with more than 80 articles published across Europe. But the situation is far from being resolved, so the campaign is holding a week of action calling for further support to keep up the pressure.
Schütte is already seeing the effects of the impasse over Swiss involvement in Horizon Europe. “The status of the UK is still up for debate, but Switzerland has lost its associated country status, and for that reason we see a reorientation of Swiss researchers,” Schütte says. “They are looking for partners outside of Europe rather than in neighbouring countries, and this is to the disadvantage of all parties involved in Europe. I would not want to see this happen with our British colleagues as well.”
In the UK, there is strong sense of urgency. “We feel that we are running out of time to finalise association to Horizon Europe,” explains Vivienne Stern, director of Universities UK. “Especially with the ongoing developments in Ukraine, it is more important than ever to ensure that scientific collaboration in Europe is able to continue. Association of the UK and Switzerland needs to be concluded swiftly, without allowing other issues to stand in the way.”
Cutting through the politics
While supporting the Stick to Science campaign, Schütte questions the option of separating science and politics. “Horizon Europe is a political consensus to jointly support science and research, but it is not driven purely by science and research, it is politically driven. So the political rationale is at the forefront, and we have to be aware of it and address it.”
That will be challenging because of the complexity of the political dispute, but Stick to Science can make a difference by convincing politicians not usually involved in science that it warrants their serious consideration. “We have to bring the issue back to the forefront and provide an impetus for breaking the current deadlock,” Schütte adds. “We need progress, for the sake of science, but beyond that for the sake of prosperity and a positive outlook for the next generation of young and gifted people in Europe.”
The Stick to Science campaign is all too aware of its political dimension. “Excluding Switzerland and the UK from Horizon Europe is a political decision that creates collateral damage for both our countries and the EU,” says Michael Hengartner, president of the board of the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology. “It is therefore an excellent signal that so many actors in the world of research and innovation from all over the continent are committed to the Stick to Science initiative and are calling on politicians to act.”
“I’m pleased that so many scientists and others working in science, research and innovation are backing the Stick to Science initiative and stating the crucial importance of comprehensive agreements involving Switzerland and the UK,” adds Martin Vetterli, president of EPFL, the École Polytechnique Féderale de Lausanne. “Other voices, including from the business community, are now also emphasising the need to transcend borders and work together.”
The signatories to the Stick to Science campaign are urging the EU, the UK and Switzerland to agree association agreements as soon as possible, so that the two countries can continue to contribute both scientifically and financially to the strength of Horizon Europe. Any institution and individual who wants to support the initiative can still sign up under www.stick-to-science.eu and communicate about it (see https://stick-to-science.eu/week-of-action/).
A range of actions is planned during the Week of Action taking place during 4-8 April.
Do join us:
Monday - Write to your international network and activate your contacts in EU Member States, letting them know why they should also be a part of Stick to Science.
Tuesday - Send us your videos & tag us in your posts on social media about why you support #StickToScience. We will be sharing your posts throughout the week on our channels.
Wednesday - Write a letter to your parliamentarian or government representative and share a post with everyone on social media once you have (see suggested representatives and card template under https://stick-to-science.eu/week-of-action/).
Thursday - Join us in celebrating World Health Day by sharing a testimonial of your climate or health related research, or any other examples of win-win collaboration, and why it’s important to you that Switzerland and the UK have to associate to Horizon Europe.
Friday - Finish off the week strong by calling EU leaders on social media for a swift association of Switzerland and the UK in Horizon Europe (see list of possible handles to be used)
Do not worry if you miss a specific day for your action. It can also be relayed on another day. We thank you for your continued support and look forward to seeing your action this week!