EU and partners express strong support for Europe in space

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16 November 2011

The European Parliament Hemicycle. ©Peter GutierrezThe ongoing economic crisis has caused many national and international programmes to be put on hold. Not so for Europe's frontline initiatives in space. At the recent 4th Conference on EU Space Policy at the European Parliament in Brussels, representatives of EU institutions and key international agencies and organisations explained why they are more determined than ever to support Europe's activities in space.

Addressing conference participants at the EU Parliament Hemicycle, President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy stressed the importance of remaining competitive in a global marketplace: “By following through and completing the Galileo and GMES programmes, we ensure that Europe remains on a level playing field with our international competitors. These programmes represent a significant added value for so many sectors, including transport, communications, agriculture, environment and climate change, sustainable development, security, and the list goes on.”

President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso cited the recent successful launch of the first two operational Galileo satellites; calling it a major step for European space policy, but he also underlined the importance of public institutional support. “We understand that Galileo is an investment in Europe’s industrial future, and by dedicating significant long-term funding, the European Union is demonstrating Europe’s commitment and determination to be a leader in space.”

The right time for space

Many of the speakers at the Conference on EU Space Policy agreed that space is about competitiveness in the 21st century. But is 2011 the right time to be putting precious funding into big-budget flagship programmes such as Galileo and EGNOS?

Paul Weissenberg. ©Peter GutierrezEuropean Commission Vice-President Antonio Tajani said, “All of this is taking place in a difficult economic context, but we believe this is precisely the moment to invest in space activities. This is an investment in unity and this is how Europe remains competitive. We cannot, we must not, allow unfavourable economic conditions to become an excuse for inaction in this vital sector.”

Delivering a key message on co-operation and partnership was European Space Agency (ESA) Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain. “ESA is the most reliable space partner in the world,” he said. “We have never broken an agreement and our friends and partners in the United States, in Russia and in China, are all pushing for increased co-operation with us.”

Dordain reminded participants that Europe is a real world leader in the space sector, in the commercial space manufacturing and services markets and on the hard-tech side. “Galileo technologies are the best in the world,” he said, “and they will deliver very important new services, from basic navigation to emergency services and disaster relief, and all with the benefit of the citizen as top priority.”

Who will run Galileo?

Mounting a headline space programme or putting a new space system in place is not the same as running that space system once it is operational. And not every system calls for the same solution, as the European Commission’s General Director of DG Enterprise and Industry Paul Weissenberg affirmed, “Our flagship space programmes represent critical infrastructures and require the achievement of enormous technological challenges, but once these challenges have been met and these systems are operational, they become services, and these have to be managed.”

Carlo des Dorides. ©Peter GutierrezFor Galileo, Weissenberg said, the Commission favours the European GNSS Agency (GSA) as operator. “We think the GSA could be the right choice to run Galileo, while an entity such as EUMETSAT might be the best choice to run a more decentralised system such as GMES.”

GSA Executive Director Carlo des Dorides believes the GSA is up to the task. “The GSA has been at the heart of the launch of EGNOS operational services, and we are a central actor in the run-up to Galileo operational services. What is critical now is to recognise that we have real deadlines to deal with – we expect to see first operational Galileo service delivery by 2014, so more than anything we need to have a clear and very rapid decision on who will run the operational Galileo system.”

Once Galileo is up and running, des Dorides says, a key priority will be close co-operation with ESA, to maintain strict continuity of service, but also with industrial partners and especially the user community.

Responsibility, accountability, commitment

Weissenberg says Galileo will be more than a simple management job. “The responsibility for the GSA will be great, if it is indeed to be the Galileo operator. Running the Galileo system will mean being fully accountable, and we still have other big questions to consider, including legal liability in the event of failure.”

David Williams, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency reminded participants and speakers that all depends on sufficient financing. Judging by the enthusiasm expressed by key EU representatives and a positive consensus among all players and stakeholders at the 4th Conference on EU Space Policy, the political commitment to Galileo, EGNOS and GMES, if not the actual financing, appears to be strong.

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Updated: Mar 30, 2015