Ten years of the European Research Council: positive record from Swiss perspective

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Bern, 06.07.2017 - An event was held in Geneva on 6 July to mark the tenth anniversary of the European Research Council (ERC). The ERC awards valuable grants to excellent scientists across all disciplines to carry out pioneering research at institutions in an EU member state or associated state. Scientists active in Switzerland have been particularly successful with their applications for ERC grants. State Secretary Mauro Dell?Ambrogio praised the pioneering role of the ERC and its importance for the entire European research area - as well as for Switzerland.


The ERC Scientific Council (governing body) is being hosted by CERN in Geneva between 4 and 7 July, where its plenary meeting is held this time. The body is composed of 22 eminent scientists and scholars appointed by the European Commission. As part of the visit SERI and the Euresearch information network put on an event to mark the anniversary entitled ‘10 Years of ERC: Aiming for the Stars’. Speaking at the event, State Secretary Mauro Dell‘Ambrogio emphasised that ’The ERC’s funding policy corresponds entirely with our own national funding principles. Switzerland’s approach to research funding also focuses on competition, excellence and a bottom-up process in selecting themes.’

Other guests speaking at the event included ERC president, Prof. Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, and Prof. Michael Hengartner, president of swissuniversities, who discussed the importance of the ERC from their respective points of view. Following that, State Secretary Mauro Dell?Ambrogio, Prof. Reinhilde Veugelers (member of the ERC Scientific Council), Prof. Matthias Egger (President of the Research Council of the Swiss National Science Foundation), Dr Fabiola Gianotti (director-general of CERN) and Prof. Martin Vetterli (president of the EPFL) discussed the role of the ERC and basic research in Europe. The session was rounded off by Robert-Jan Smits, director-general of the Directorate General for Research and Innovation at the European Commission, who provided an insight into the future direction of the next EU framework programme.

The European Research Council was founded in 2007 as part of the European Union’s 7th Framework Programme aimed at strengthening basic research. An ERC grant is extremely beneficial for a researcher’s scientific career. ERC president Jean-Pierre Bourguignon cited the high quality of research projects and the great ambition of scientists who have received ERC grants over the last ten years: ‘ERC grants have resulted in many scientific breakthroughs.’

A look back over the first ten years shows that researchers in Switzerland have been extremely successful in the competition for ERC grants. At 24%, applications from Switzerland have the highest rate of success, significantly higher than the European average of around 11%. 520 ERC grants have been awarded to Switzerland since 2007 with total funding of around EUR 900 million. In terms of the number of ERC projects, this puts Switzerland in fifth place in international comparison behind the UK, Germany, France and the Netherlands.

The framework programmes (FPs) are the European Union’s main instruments for implementing its common science and technology policy. The 8th generation of the programme has been running since 2014. It will last until 2020, bears the title Horizon 2020 and has a budget of around EUR 82 billion. The framework agreement on scientific and technological cooperation between Switzerland and the European Community, as it was then, came into force 30 years ago. That formed the basis for Switzerland’s official participation in the framework programmes in 1987.