European space policy has taken another giant leap forward with the adoption of a new European Community (EC) and European Space Agency (ESA) Framework Agreement. The accord, which lays the groundwork for joint projects, common management structures and a variety of other shared activities, was signed in Brussels on 25 November 2003 by European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin, ESA Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain and Letizia Moratti, Italian Minister for Education, University and Research.

“This Agreement represents a milestone as it opens the way to a new era for Europe as a true space power,” said Commissioner Busquin. “We are now ready to work on closer terms with ESA, a world-class organisation. Our two institutions hereby commit themselves to a common future with common goals and this can only mean a better future for European citizens. This agreement resolves some key questions raised during the recent consultation on European Space Policy and we now have a solid platform for European space activities. With this we see rapid changes ahead that will revitalise European space sector.” Busquin also made reference to the EU’s new Growth Initiative which includes specific space programmes in a list of priority European research actions.

For Dordain, the new Framework Agreement is a real step forward. “The fact that the EU is now taking a full and active role in space,” he said, “is a great development, a victory for the European space sector.”

Europe united in space

Letizia Moretti said, “The importance of this day can not be overestimated. The European Union recognises the supreme importance of space. These activities are a rich source not only of fundamental scientific discovery but also for protecting the environment, for information and communication sciences, for transport and for the competitiveness of our industries in general. The developments that come out of the space sector will benefit all of our citizens, improving the quality of life, creating new jobs and supporting sustainable economic growth.”

Forging a common future

The EC-ESA Framework Agreement comes on the heals of another European milestone, the presentation of the White Paper on European Space Policy. The result of one of the most extensive consultations ever conducted in the research and technology sector, the Space White Paper represents an ambition action plan for European space activities.

The new Framework Agreement is seen as a key to the successful implementation of the first phase of the White Paper, recognising the need for the EU and ESA to join forces to make the most of space technology. This will enable the Union to address and achieve a large number of policy goals, notably in the areas of the information society, transport and environmental protection.

Agreement specifics

The Framework Agreement addresses two general points:

  • The progressive development of an overall European Space Policy, aimed at using space systems and infrastructure to supporting EU policies and to respond to societal demands;
  • Establishing common and appropriate operational arrangements for efficient and mutually beneficial co-operation between the EU and ESA, in accordance with their respective tasks and responsibilities.

Specifically, EC/ESA co-operation will focus on:

  • Securing Europe’s independent and cost-effective access to space, for the independent application and use of space technologies;
  • Ensuring that space activities take into account EU policies, in particular in support of sustainable development, economic growth and employment;
  • Consolidating space know-how, achieving greater coherence and synergy, namely through a network of technical centres.

Finally, eight specific fields of co-operation have been identified:

  • Science;
  • Technology;
  • Earth observation;
  • Navigation;
  • Communication by satellite;
  • Human space flight and micro-gravity;
  • Launchers;
  • Spectrum policy related to space.

The Agreement sets out the principles for EC/ESA co-operation, including guidelines for joint initiatives, extra-European co-operation, exchange of personnel, settlement of disputes, and means for resolving other pertinent issues.

Next steps

First joint initiatives expected to emerge from this co-operation could be:

  • The launch of the development phase of Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES);
  • Using satellites to bridge the ‘digital divide’ in a wider Europe;
  • An EU contribution to independent access to space;
  • The use of the International Space Station (ISS) by European industry and research centres.

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