Interview with SSC President Sabine Süsstrunk on the Open Letter

The Swiss Science Council (SSC) has initiated an Open Letter on the Swiss association under Horizon Europe. Among the more than 30 European signatories are science councils and advisory bodies, university networks as well as other STI organisations. In this interview, the SSC president Sabine Süsstrunk provides background information on the initiative.

Sabine Süsstrunk, you are the president of the Swiss Science Council. Could you tell us what the Open Letter is about?

The Open Letter is a statement by European stakeholders of education, research and innovation. They emphasize the importance of a full association of Switzerland under Horizon Europe in order to continue the strong and mutually beneficial collaboration between Swiss scientists and innovators with their European counterparts.

Why did the Swiss Science Council start this initiative?

The Swiss Science Council (SSC) is an independent scientific advisory body of the Swiss Federal Council. The 15 members of the SSC represent a broad range of academic disciplines and institutions. We are deeply convinced that a strong R&I ecosystem in Switzerland needs close interaction with our European neighbours – and vice versa. The SSC is in regular contact with other European science advisory bodies. We asked them whether they would support an Open Letter in favour of a Swiss association under Horizon Europe. Many of them agreed and other science organisations followed.

To whom is the Open Letter directed?

The Open Letter has no specific addressee. It is directed to all decision makers and stakeholders of European research and innovation, within both Switzerland and the European Union. The document is a call for unity in times of great challenges, which we need to tackle together.

So far, more than 30 European R&I organisations have signed the letter. Were you surprised by this broad support?

We are very pleased and thankful to see such a strong support. The high number of signatories indicate that the European research and innovation community values the excellent collaboration with researchers, educators, and innovators from Switzerland. Our country is very open when it comes to the international mobility of researchers and innovators. About 50% of the researchers at Swiss universities have a foreign passport. At the same time, many scientists that have been educated in Switzerland do now have research positions in other European countries. This is brain circulation at its best.

Most of the signatories have a background in academia. What do you think about the importance of Horizon Europe for the private sector?

The majority of the Horizon Europe projects include industry partners, ranging from small and medium enterprises to large companies. This is of great benefit for the private sector, including highly innovative start-ups from Switzerland. At the same time, academic stakeholders such as Universities of Applied Sciences benefit as well as the cooperation with firms all over Europe expands their network and stimulates their R&I activities.

What is the relevance of a Swiss association under Horizon Europe both for Switzerland and for the European Union?

Solutions for today’s social, economic and ecological problems require international research collaboration. Research and innovation should not stay within borders. Switzerland has an excellent track record when it comes to the participation in previous Framework Programmes. Therefore, the SSC strongly supports the continuation of this cooperation.

What is Switzerland’s contribution to the European Framework Programmes for Research and Innovation?

Swiss scientists have been engaged on every level of previous EU Framework Programmes; from designing calls to project participation and project evaluation. The same is true for Switzerland’s private sector that has benefited and contributed to the knowledge exchange within Europe.

The letter mentions that global competition in research and innovation is becoming more and more multipolar. What are the consequences for Switzerland?

Switzerland belongs to the most innovative countries of the world. As a small country, however, we depend on the exchange and collaboration with other nations. In a multipolar world, our most important partners are the other European countries. Therefore, a Swiss association to Horizon Europe is crucial. Another great European initiative is CERN, a research infrastructure hosted by Switzerland and France. CERN enables fundamental research with groundbreaking results in the field of physics. There are many other examples of successful collaboration in strategic fields, ranging from quantum computing to space exploration and renewable energy.

What is your personal wish for the future relationship between the Swiss Confederation and the European Union when it comes to research and innovation?

I hope that our excellent relationship will continue to flourish and will be further extended. I am convinced that this reflects the wish of the Swiss research and innovation community as a whole.

Open Letter on Horizon Europe (