Swiss researchers can once again apply for European Research Council (ERC) grants. The European Commission opened up ERC funding calls to Swiss applicants this week as European and Swiss negotiators sat down to discuss measures that would deepen the EU–Swiss relationship. The talks cover a broad range of measures on trade, energy and related issues, but also include proposals that would see Switzerland rejoin the EU’s research programmes.

Back in 2021, Switzerland lost its status as an associated country in the EU’s flagship research programmes, including Euratom, Digital Europe and Horizon Europe – the world’s largest scientific funding programme, which has a seven-year budget of €95.5 billion (£82 billion). The country’s ejection from these programmes was part of the political fallout that followed a failed trade deal between Switzerland and the EU.

The loss of access to Horizon funds and associated international research networks has been a major cause of concern for Swiss-based scientists. But the launch of new talks between Swiss and European policymakers raises the possibility of strengthening Swiss–EU research ties once again.

EU president Ursula von der Leyen and her Swiss counterpart Viola Amherd met in Brussels on Monday to begin negotiations chiefly centred on trade. But the talks will also seek an agreement ‘allowing for Switzerland’s participation in EU programmes, including Horizon Europe’.

‘There is still a great deal of potential that we can exploit together, for example for our students to come together under the umbrella of Erasmus+, learn together, become friends – and thus create bonds that last a lifetime,’ said von der Leyen in a statement. ‘Or to allow our bright scientific minds on both sides to carry out research and drive innovation together through Horizon Europe. Or, for example, by offering our scientists the opportunity to monitor climate change in the Alps through our Copernicus satellite programme.’

In a post on X, Amherd also highlighted the importance of Swiss participation in European research projects.

With a view towards smoothing the reintegration of Swiss researchers into its research programmes, the EU has now put in place a transitional arrangement that allows scientists at Swiss institutions to start applying for ERC advance grants. The commission notes that Swiss applications ‘will be treated as if Switzerland is an associated country from admissibility and eligibility to evaluation, up until the preparation of grant agreements’.

The Swiss government notes that its representatives will meet with their European counterparts in June for a further round of talks.