International research infrastructures (IRIs) such as CERN in Geneva and international research organisations such as the European Space Agency (ESA) depend on high-quality products and services. Thanks to Switzerland's membership of these organisations, Swiss companies can also take part in calls for tenders. As a result, Swiss-based bidders secure contracts worth a total of around CHF 250 million each year. In addition, large companies and SMEs benefit from knowledge and technology transfer.
As part of its policy of pursuing international cooperation in research and innovation, Switzerland is a member of around ten international research infrastructures (IRIs). All of these IRIs share the same fundamental characteristic: they manage large facilities, all of which must be built and maintained. IRIs therefore need to purchase advanced technologies and contract services or civil engineering works from companies or other institutions. In the case of ESA the operation of space infrastructure is important but ESA’s core activity is the development and launch of new missions into space. These core activities are made possible thanks to supplies from European industrial companies.
International research infrastructures (IRIs)
Switzerland's participation in international research infrastructures (IRIs) provides Swiss companies with access to IRI calls for tenders, which generate orders worth around CHF 100 million each year. In addition to financial returns, participation in IRIs enables the Swiss industrial base to develop technological expertise and know-how. Moreover, IRIs encourage technology transfer activities, which allow the innovations developed for IRIs to be brought to the market. Typically, this includes software or new technologies for fields as varied as medicine, computer science, optics, robotics, energy, transport, communication or even art history. Here company involvement is sought after to develop prototypes that can then be manufactured and distributed on the market.
IRIs tend to have very different procurement policies. Some calls for tenders are public, others are addressed only to a select group of companies decided by the Member States or chosen by the IRI itself. The degree of attention that each IRI must pay to industrial 'fair return' among Member States (i.e. a volume of purchases within each State proportional to its financial contribution) also varies greatly. As the provider of public funds, the federal government has a natural duty to strive for a good industrial return and encourage development of the Swiss industrial base.
As a representative of the federal government in the governing bodies of IRIs, SERI essentially advocates the establishment of transparent procurement rules, respect for the most open procedures possible and consideration of quality criteria - in addition to price - in the awarding of contracts. Quality criteria are essential to ensuring the competitiveness of Swiss industry in an international context where prices are comparatively low. This policy pushes Swiss industry to monitor its competitive environment, create appropriate cross-border partnerships and remain at the forefront. For their part, IRIs benefit from having access to a wide range of services as well as from competition between the various potential suppliers.