Editorial | France Gets it Right in Making Space a Priority

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French President Nicolas Sarkozy set the right tone in justifying his intent to sustain the country’s current level of space spending and pursue a $700 million public bond issue for space-related projects despite a debt problem that, while not as serious as those facing Spain and Italy, needs to be addressed.

Mr. Sarkozy, speaking at the Toulouse headquarters of the French space agency, CNES, said his government is looking to reduce spending, but not in the space sector. “Space is a high priority for us because there is no sovereignty if we ignore what is at stake in space,” he said.

Granted, politicians tend to tell audiences what they want to hear, but there is every reason to believe Mr. Sarkozy meant what he said; he has a solid track record of support for French space activity. In mid-2008, for example, just one year after taking office, he called for doubling military space spending, and has been vocal in his support for the industry ever since. His latest remarks, at minimum, put him on record that his appetite for space investment has not been dampened by the economic crisis that has taken hold in several European countries.

While in better shape than most other European Union members, France is at risk of losing its triple-A credit rating amid the debt crisis. Mr. Sarkozy, along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, has called on European Union governments to balance their budgets, which cannot help but increase pressure on France to rein in its own spending.

Because they cost so much, space programs are always tempting targets during times of austerity, and not all space investments pay the dividends that were expected. But Mr. Sarkozy clearly recognizes the strategic and economic benefits of modern space capabilities. Fundamentally, he views space as an investment in the future.

“It would be crazy not to give this industry the resources it needs to develop,” he said.

It’s a message worth repeating, particularly at a time when so many debt-ridden countries, including the United States, which leads the world in space spending, are rethinking their priorities.