BRUSSELS, Belgium — The opposing views of France and Germany over whether the 27-nation European Union or the 18-nation European Space Agency (ESA) should direct Europe’s space policy were presented in stark form here Oct. 26.
In successive presentations made here during a conference at the European Parliament on “A New Space Policy for Europe,” organized by Business Bridge Europe, the heads of the French and German space agencies outlined policy objectives that could not have been more different.
Yannick d’Escatha, president of the French space agency, CNES, said the European Union treaty that went into force last December and gives the European Union an explicit role in space policy should be used to the maximum extent. Where there is political muscle, there should also be policy oversight, d’Escatha said.
D’Escatha nonetheless said the European Union’s growing power over space affairs should coexist with, and not wholly replace, existing responsibilities held by ESA and individual |nations.
Investing the European Union with more say over how space investment is distributed is the backdrop to many contentious issues over space programs in the past couple of years. The controversies over a next-generation meteorological satellite contract award and the 14-satellite contract to build Europe’s Galileo satellites both were caught up in the issue over whether strict value-for-money criteria should be used to decide contracts.
The European Union answers the question by saying: Yes, with exceptions. ESA, with a geographic-return rule that means contracts are signed with companies based on their nations’ individual program contributions, answers: No, with some exceptions.
The trouble the European Union is having in producing a written space-policy outline — one was due in October but has been delayed — has fed the argument of those who want to limit the assumption by the Brussels, Belgium-based union of even part of ESA’s role.
Johann-Dietrich Woerner, chairman of the German Aerospace Center, DLR, followed d’Escatha and laid out the case for retaining ESA as the space policy spearhead.
“Space programs are different,” Woerner said. “Europe’s space industry is concentrated, with 91 percent of it in six member states. Individual member states still plan to invest in their own priority programs through ESA despite the European treaty.”
Woerner said selecting the best value among bidders is not always possible at ESA, nor should it be, given the realities of needing to attract investment by many nations.
“Sometimes you need to select the second-best bid in order to stimulate investment in a country in order to maintain a competitive environment over the long term,” Woerner said. “Sometimes you need to take second best because one country is investing in a majority of the program in question, and the second-best bidder is in this country. The European Union cannot be endowed with instruments that are necessary for a space policy.”
Woerner pointed to the broad Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) environmental surveillance program financed partly by ESA but managed by the European Commission. GMES has been unable to secure the necessary funding to launch its backup satellites — considered crucial by users — and has yet to determine how the system can be sustained.
Woerner said the European Union, which has political power where ESA does not, should look to ESA as its sole provider of space systems.
ESA officials told the conference that the agency has been able to make the geographic return rule more flexible in recent years. They said that while the idea of guaranteeing contracts to industry based in part on where the companies are located may sound anti-competitive, it is a system that over 30 years has created a European space landscape where competition is alive and well.
Enrico Saggese, president of the Italian Space Agency (ASI), which is Europe’s third-largest national space agency after France and Germany, said ESA’s geographic return or “fair return” principle does not prevent competition. What it does, he said, is permit individual nations to pursue their own policy objectives in a European context.