Switzerland is expelled from the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) since it is not associated with Horizon Europe, the European Union’s (EU) research and innovation initiative. Under ESFRI rules, members must be EU states, associated to Horizon, or an EU candidate country to be the part of it. 

Switzerland is deeply ingrained in the landscape of European research infrastructures. Additionally, it participates actively in associations like the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, the European Southern Observatory, and the European Space Agency. Switzerland hosts one of the world’s largest scientific infrastructures, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), its exclusion is particularly problematic. 

ESFRI, which was established in 2002, publishes roadmaps for research infrastructure in Europe to ensure that nations don’t build identical facilities and that development complies with scientific goals. Swiss researchers participated in a number of ESFRI working groups for its most recent strategy in 2021. But the Swiss Academy of Sciences has announced that these experts would no longer be permitted to participate in these groups. 

Researcher commissioner, Mariya Gabriel, said in a statement. “We are looking forward to renewing Switzerland’s participation and re-engage at all levels as soon as possible, to allow for closer cooperation.”  ESFRI is currently having “a general reflection on its cooperation with third countries,” she said. The outcome, which could include changes to the rules that exclude the Swiss, is expected this year. But any rule change to allow Switzerland back into ESFRI “also needs to take into consideration the exploratory talks on the future of our relationship,” Gabriel added, referring to the wider EU-Swiss negotiations. 

Jana Kolar, ESFRI’s chair, acknowledged that research and innovation cooperation between the EU and Switzerland was part of “international relations” and so any return of Switzerland to ESFRI, even as an observer, “depends on the outcome of political decisions on the highest levels”. 

If long-term affiliation is impossible, Switzerland is considering alternative measures that would begin in 2024 at the earliest.