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EU/Switzerland relations - Erasmus +

Answer to written question on EU/Switzerland relations - Erasmus +

Question for written answer E-006384/2014 to the Commission Rule 130 Sophie Montel (NI)

On 9 February 2014 the popular initiative 'Against mass immigration' was democratically adopted by a majority of the people of Switzerland. Since the vote on this, relations between the EU and Switzerland have taken a marked downturn.

After the country added a new article to its Constitution aimed at restricting immigration by determining ceilings for the number of foreigners trying to enter Swiss territory, it asked to be able to renegotiate the treaty on free movement with the EU. On 24 July this request was turned down by Brussels. In addition, Switzerland was excluded from the ERASMUS + programme, a decision which results in severely penalising European students, who will be less able to attend the excellent Swiss universities and high-quality training courses on offer (reduction of 25 % according to the Foundation for Federal Cooperation). This retaliatory measure against Switzerland will in fact penalise our students, particularly as high-quality training is known to facilitate the search for employment. How does the Commission intend to address this problem?

Answer given by Ms Vassiliou on behalf of the Commission

The Swiss popular vote of 9 February 2014 in favour of changing Switzerland's system of immigration called into question the principle of free movement of persons between the EU and Switzerland.

As a consequence, the Swiss Federal Council was not in a position to sign the Protocol extending the EU-Swiss agreement on the free movement of persons to Croatia, which joined the Union on 1 July 2013 as new Member State. Member States had made the conclusion of negotiations on Swiss participation in Erasmus+ dependent on the conclusion of the Protocol.  The suspension of negotiations was therefore not a punishment, but the logical consequence of the Swiss decision not to sign it.

In the period between 2011 and 2013 Switzerland fully participated in the Lifelong Learning Programme, the predecessor of Erasmus+, hosting some 4000 EU students and sending some 3000 Swiss students annually, compared to the total average of around 250 000 students. Following the suspension of negotiations for participation in Erasmus+, the Swiss State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation and the Swiss National Agency have drawn up a transitional solution for 2014, along the lines of Switzerland's indirect participation before 2011.

Thus, pending a full resolution of the problem, Switzerland enjoys the same status as other partner countries within Erasmus+, e.g. Swiss students are entitled to participate in Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degrees, a high-level integrated international study programme delivered by international consortia of higher education institutions.

Switzerland's full participation can be resumed once the legal obstacles are removed and a bilateral Erasmus+ agreement is concluded.

Source: European Parliament Register