Switzerland To Join Galileo Program under Agreement with EU

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BRUSSELS — The Swiss government, whose nonmembership in the European Union and membership in the European Space Agency have raised security-related issues at the European Commission, has concluded an agreement with the EU to join Europe’s Galileo satellite navigation program.

Under the agreement, which was completed in December, Switzerland will make catch-up payments to the EU totaling 80.05 million euros ($108 million), which the two sides agreed will make up for the lack of Swiss involvement in the program between 2008 and 2013.

Starting in 2014, Swiss authorities will pay an annual Galileo fee of 27 million euros to the commission in return for access to the full range of Galileo services including the encrypted, restricted Public Regulated Service (PRS) signals available only to governments. 

Access to the PRS signals is subject to a separate agreement that is still under negotiation.

“Switzerland shall have access to all European GNSS [global navigation satellite services] services subject to this Agreement and to the PRS subject to a separate PRS Agreement,” the joint document says. “Switzerland has expressed its interest in the PRS, considering it an important element of its participation in the European GNSS programs. The parties shall endeavor to conclude a PRS Agreement to ensure the Swiss PRS participation as soon as a request to this regard is submitted by Switzerland and the procedure provided for in Article 218 of the [European Union] Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union has been completed.” 

Article 218 of the treaty covers negotiations with non-EU members.

European government officials attending a space policy conference in Brussels Jan. 28-29 said the U.S. Department of Defense has indicated it too would like access to the PRS signals. They said a decision on that would await a clear mandate given by European heads of state to enter into negotiations with the United States.

Full Galileo services are not expected to begin until 2020, with partial service availability starting in 2015.

Switzerland is a longstanding member of the 20-nation European Space Agency, which has been hired by the EU to manage Galileo’s technical development, including the construction of the planned 30-satellite Galileo constellation and the satellites’ launches.

In 2012 the commission, in a document suggesting ways it could better work with ESA, said the fact that three ESA participating states — Switzerland, Norway and Canada — are not EU members “poses an obvious problem in general, and an even more acute problem when it comes to security and defense matters.”

The Swiss parliament is expected to ratify the government’s decision this year.