European Commission Urged To Put GMES Back in Budget

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PARIS — Forty-four members of the European Parliament have signed a petition urging the European Commission to reinstate Europe’s flagship environmental monitoring project, GMES, into the commission’s proposed multiyear funding plan, saying the project otherwise is likely to collapse.

The Sept. 9 letter to Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso says the broad, multisatellite effort, called Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES), “is politically and technically the most advanced program in the world. It has the potential to place Europe at the head of environmental monitoring, risk and security management.”

The 19-nation European Space Agency (ESA) already has spent more than 1.6 billion euros ($2.3 billion) on GMES with the understanding that the European Commission would take over the program for its operational and maintenance phase.

ESA and the commission have jointly concluded that maintaining and replacing the GMES constellation of Sentinel and other satellites in orbit, plus overall network operations, would cost 834 million euros per year. The first Sentinel satellites are scheduled for launch in the next two years.

The commission several years ago set up its own GMES office and had been expected to embed GMES funding in its seven-year budget, which begins in 2014. But this summer, the commission decided that the risk of GMES cost overruns remains too high. ESA officials, citing the state of satellite hardware development, have denied this.

The commission has proposed placing GMES outside the fixed seven-year budget, with funding to come from voluntary contributions of individual European Union member states.

The 44 parliamentarians, in their letter to Barroso, say that this is equivalent to scrapping the program altogether.

The letter quotes a commission staff working paper that concludes: “[M]ore than likely… this option would mean a discontinuation of GMES, as no other partners would be in a position to take over the prominent role played so far by the EU in structuring and supporting — both politically and financially — GMES. It would lead to sunken costs, and past investment would be lost.”

“We share this view,” the parliamentarians say in their letter, “and stress that the GMES project is running on time and within the costs foreseen.”

 
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