France To Keep Pushing for Ambitious New EU Space Policy

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  Space News Business

France To Keep Pushing for Ambitious New EU Space Policy

By PETER B. de SELDING
Space News Staff Writer
posted: 11 July 2008
04:37 pm ET






— The French government is maintaining its plan to make space policy and investment a major theme of its European Union (EU) presidency despite ‘s vote against a European treaty that was key to much of the French effort, according to ‘s space representative in for the six-month presidency.

Serge Plattard, a former director of the European Space Policy Institute of Vienna, said that during its presidency of the EU France will push ahead with an ambitious effort to raise ‘s space profile and investment for environmental monitoring, space surveillance, military objectives and both manned and unmanned exploration.

‘s mid-June rejection of the Lisbon Treaty, which would have reorganized relations among the 27 European Union members, had nothing to do with space policy. But because the treaty requires unanimous approval by EU member governments, the Irish decision casts doubt on whether the Lisbon Treaty is still viable.

The treaty would make European space policy a “shared competence” between the European Commission and the individual member states, giving the commission greater legal standing to direct ‘s space policy.

For ‘s six-month presidency, which began July 1, French President Nicolas Sarkozy had indicated that forging a clear space policy for the EU was a high priority. During a July 2 conference here organized by the French Institute for International Relations (IFRI), Plattard said the French plans remain intact.

Specifically, is backing a proposal to place independent ground-based space- surveillance assets in , and elsewhere into a network that eventually would be expanded to give a space-monitoring capability alongside that of the United States and

Currently depends on the U.S. Space Surveillance Network for information on the location of operating satellites and orbital debris, although radar and optical systems in and are able to track a limited number of orbital objects.

The European Space Agency (ESA) is expected to propose to its 17 member governments in November that they spend 100 million euros ($158 million) during three years to coordinate the existing ground-based systems. The goal is to field a rudimentary space-surveillance network, for civil and military users, to give

Plattard said one goal of the French presidency is to forge a consensus among EU governments on exactly what data will be produced from the network, and who will have access to it. Another question, Plattard said, is what kind of operating entity should run the system and maintain it.

EU governments already have begun a parallel effort in several United Nations-affiliated bodies to create a code of conduct for spacefaring nations.

In a February address on ‘s then-coming EU presidency, Sarkozy said it is unacceptable for space to remain “a Wild West” when so many nations are now active there.

RosineCouchoud, the deputy director responsible for space activities in the nuclear disarmament directorate of the French Foreign Affairs Ministry, said is trying to find a middle ground between Russian and Chinese proposals that seek to make space an arms-free zone, and the position arguing that no new treaty or oversight organization is needed for such an effort.

Couchoud said the EU code of conduct proposal, while voluntary in nature, would have the effect of pressuring signatory nations not to perform the kind of anti-satellite demonstration the Chinese performed in January 2007. The mobile ground-based missile that intentionally destroyed a retired Chinese weather satellite created a large population of space debris in orbits used by operating spacecraft. Some of the debris will remain for centuries, according to and European government assessments.

Couchoud said Europe’s proposal gives “due consideration to defense interests” and seeks only to establish confidence-building measures that reinforce each nation’s right to use space without fear that its satellites will be damaged, intentionally or unintentionally.

Couchoud said the EU understands that any attempt to regulate space activity runs into a minefield of legal issues. “Ultimately we will need a definition of what space is, exactly, and what do we mean when we say ‘weapon’ in space?” Couchoud said.

Plattard said the emerging space-surveillance program has not closed the door to being at least as open as the U.S. Space Surveillance Network, which makes public its information on the location of most satellites – not including classified assets.

has complained in the past that the location of its spy satellites is published routinely by the U.S. Defense Department, and that would like this to stop. French officials have said negotiations with the United States on common guidelines for disclosure can only begin once has its own surveillance capability.