Federal Council moves forward with decision to improve planning support for CERN projects

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At its meeting on 10 March 2023, the Federal Council decided to launch a consultation on proposed amendments to the Federal Act on the Promotion of Research and Innovation (RIPA). This decision follows on from the decision reached on 10 December 2021 to initiate work on a federal sectoral plan focusing on projects of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). The Federal Council intends to submit a dispatch to the Swiss Parliament regarding the amendment of the RIPA by the end of 2023. Often referred to as the European laboratory for particle physics, CERN is an intergovernmental organisation that operates the world’s largest particle physics laboratory. Switzerland is a founding member.

Straddling the border region between France and Switzerland, CERN contributes to Switzerland’s international reputation and delivers an important scientific, industrial and economic impact. CERN’s infrastructure needs are constantly evolving, and several projects that will have a footprint on Swiss territory are envisaged. A sectoral plan is currently being drawn up to ensure that these projects are compatible with the objectives of Swiss research, host state, environmental and spatial planning policies, and that they are implemented in the best possible administrative conditions. This sectoral plan will provide a framework for balancing the various interests at stake.

In order to provide a legal basis for this sectoral plan, several changes need to be made to the RIPA. The proposed amendment provides for a sharing of competences between the Canton of Geneva and the Confederation with regard to the approval of CERN plans for construction and installation. The amendment bill also includes a new section on the procedure for obtaining federal approval of plans. The external consultation phase for this bill will come to a close at the end of spring 2023. The Federal Council is expected to submit a RIPA amendment bill and corresponding dispatch to the Swiss Parliament by the end of 2023.

Improved planning support for CERN projects is not limited to territorial considerations. Working within the ETH Domain and numerous ERI stakeholders in Switzerland, the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research (EAER) is coordinating expansion of the Swiss Accelerator Research and Technology (CHART). This network was established in 2018 to consolidate research on particle accelerators deemed relevant to CERN. A similar network is also being set up for research on detectors.

CERN and Switzerland

CERN’s mission is to help uncover what the universe is made of and how it works. This is achieved by building and operating a unique range of facilities that are made accessible to researchers from all over the world. CERN was established as an intergovernmental organisation in the Canton of Geneva in 1954. It has 23 Member States, including Switzerland, and 10 Associate Member States, mostly in Europe.

Apart from the considerable and unique contribution that it makes to science and innovation, CERN’s presence on Swiss soil also brings tangible economic benefits, particularly to the Canton of Geneva. CERN has played a key role in several technological breakthroughs that are now considered essential. This includes the World Wide Web and proton beam therapy (Hadron therapy) for cancer patients. In addition, CERN trains a large number of engineers and scientists, which helps to meet university and industry demand for highly skilled labour.