In a statement, the Swiss government said it could now ratify the protocol after parliament finally resolved its immigration question in a historic vote on Friday, nearly three years after a crucial referendum threw EU-Swiss relations into disarray.
Following the February 2014 referendum, in which the Swiss public voted to limit EU immigration, the government said it could not sign the protocol granting free movement to Croatia until it had found a way to implement the constitutionally-binding referendum result.
The EU consequently retaliated, saying if Switzerland did not approve free movement for Croatians, then Swiss scientists could not fully participate in Horizon 2020, a seven-year, €80bn research and innovation programme.
Brussels froze funds to Swiss scientists, and although the Swiss government plugged some of the funding gap their participation in projects supported by the programme has been greatly reduced since 2014.
In July the rector of Geneva University, Yves Flückiger, told the media that Swiss scientists were being marginalized because of the climate of uncertainty.
But on Friday the Swiss government finally ended the uncertainty by devising a watered-down version of the 2014 anti-immigration initiative that allows the country to preserve its bilateral agreements with the EU, including free movement.
As a result, the Swiss government said in a statement that the “conditions had been met” for the signing of the Croatia agreement.
The protocol will come into force on January 1st 2017.
“Swiss researchers will once again be able to participate fully in research projects financed by the [Horizon 2020] programme,” said the Swiss government.
“Beyond the purely financial aspect, this will hugely benefit the integration of Swiss higher education establishments in international networks”.
The news was hailed by scientists around the country, who spoke to Le Temps of their relief.
“We hope above all to be once again treated on an equal footing when being considered for the essential role of project coordinator,” added a spokesperson from CSEM, a microtechnology non-profit in Neuchâtel.
Martin Vetterli, the future president of Swiss technology institute EPFL told the paper it was “important that the scientific community in Switzerland is seen as an open place that welcomes the best researchers in the world.”