WASHINGTON — The European Commission is preparing to release by March a draft of the first comprehensive European space law, although no one outside of the Commission is quite sure what it will include.

In sessions of the European Space Conference Jan. 23, European Commission officials said they were preparing a release of a European Union space law proposal that they said would broadly address issues of safety and sustainability, while not discussing specific aspects of the bill.

“We need to build a true EU single market for space and this is, of course, the purpose of the upcoming EU space law,” said Thierry Breton, commissioner for the internal market, in a keynote address at the conference.

The law, he said, would help harmonize the current “very diverse space regime” within the EU, where 11 member states have their own national laws for space. “This fragmented approach prevents us from acting as a bloc,” he said. “Therefore, the EU space law will set common rules related to space activities.”

The focus of the proposed law will be on three areas that Breton described as safety, resilience and sustainability. However, neither he nor other European Commission officials at the conference elaborated on specific provisions likely to be in the bill.

In a panel discussion at the conference, Ekaterini Kavvada, director for secure and connected space in the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Defence Industry and Space, said the commission expected to release legislative proposal for the space law in March. She emphasized the same themes for the legislation as Breton but did not go into specifics.

“Everybody talks about it, everybody has very high expectations, but nobody has ever seen it,” quipped Thomas Dermine, state secretary for science policy in the Belgian government, of the proposed space law on that panel. Belgium holds the EU presidency for the first half of 2024 and has made a space law a priority.

Members of the European Parliament, which will take up the legislative proposal once it is released, supported the broad themes that commission officials have outlined for the law. “All of this has been floating around the European Parliament for much longer,” said Niklas Nienass, a member of the parliament. That includes, he said, “clear support for the single market, the ability for companies throughout Europe to easily work together on space matters.”

He and Christophe Grudler, another member of the parliament, saw the bill as a way for Europe to take leadership on global space regulations. “We will demanding clear rules in particular for sustainability,” Grudler said. “We can begin with our EU space law, and afterwards it can be a global space law.”

One concern expressed by European industry is how the law will be applied. “We need to be careful first to have something that is harmonized across Europe,” said Hervé Derrey, president and chief executive of Thales Alenia Space, on another conference panel, “but also to make sure we are on the playing field with the rest of the world.”

He and others argued that the law needs to apply not just to European companies but to foreign companies seeking to operate in the EU. Kavvada reassured them that is the goal of the proposed law. “The intent is to create a competitive advantage of the European industrial ecosystem and, therefore, apply to each and every company from a third country who would like to do business in Europe,” she said. “So, the same rules for the Europeans and for the non-Europeans.”

Dermine said Belgium would work to support the bill through the EU legislative process once released, but cautioned that could take some time. “Just to manage expectations — I don’t want to disappoint — it’s highly unlikely we will vote the text in this term,” which ends in June, he said. “We will work on this to have it ready to go, a legislative package that can be voted in the next presidency with the new commission.”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...