Reactions trail expulsion of Switzerland from ESFRI

Scientists and research leaders in Europe have expressed their dismay over Switzerland’s expulsion from the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI), an organization that coordinates scientific infrastructure across the continent. Switzerland, which hosts one of the world’s largest scientific infrastructures, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), was expelled from ESFRI last September due to its lack of association with Horizon Europe, the EU’s research framework program.

Many have questioned why a compromise, such as observer status for Switzerland, has not yet been reached. Some see the expulsion as a sign that ESFRI has been politicized, with the European Commission linking membership to broader relations with the EU. ESFRI’s rules currently state that only EU member states and countries associated with Horizon Europe are allowed to join.

Brussels and Bern have not yet started negotiating association, as Switzerland broke off talks in 2021 that would have revamped its overall relationship with the EU. Jana Kolar, ESFRI’s chair, acknowledged that research and innovation cooperation between the EU and Switzerland is part of “international relations” and any return of Switzerland to ESFRI, even as an observer, “depends on the outcome of political decisions on the highest levels.”

ESFRI is currently reflecting on its cooperation with third countries, and the outcome, including potential changes to the rules that exclude Switzerland, is expected this year. In December, EU science ministers welcomed these discussions, but did not publicly pressure the European Commission to re-admit Switzerland.

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