OpEd: European Space at a Crossroads

by












  Space News Business

OpEd: European Space at a Crossroads

By NICOLAS PETER

posted: 17 January 2007
03:15 pm ET



The year 2006 was particularly dynamic and successful for
Europe
– defined as the European Union (EU), the European Space Agency (ESA), Eumetsat and their member states – in space.
Europe
saw the successful launch and operations of the first European low Earth polar-orbiting meteorological satellite, Metop-1; the entry into orbit of Venus Express around Venus; and the launch of the astronomy satellite Corot.
Europe
also saw the completion of major milestones in future European space programs such as the delivery of the European Columbus laboratory at NASA’s
Kennedy Space Center
,
Fla.
; success of the first static firing test of the new-generation solid-rocket motor of
Europe
‘s small-satellite launcher Vega; as well as various good industrial and commercial performances. In addition, under the leadership of the European Commission, major progress was made in the two European flagship programs: Galileo and the soon to be renamed GMES.

 

However, while 2006 was successful and exciting for
Europe
in space, 2007 will be more crucial. Preliminary decisions and choices for
Europe
‘s future in space will be made, setting the stage for the next five to 20 years and laying the foundation for its future space architecture. Furthermore, 2007 will not only be a symbolic year for the space sector marking the 50th anniversary of the first man-made object orbiting the Earth, March 25 also will mark the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, EU’s founding charter. In usual circumstances, the EU’s 50th birthday greeting to itself would be particularly meaningless, a routine expression of European good fellowship. But 2007 will be particularly important for
Europe
as it adopts the first European Space Policy. This new development illustrates that in 2007
Europe
will not only be looking over its shoulder, but also will look forward with a sustained commitment to space activities.

 

For a long time, the development of space programs has been almost exclusively carried out under the framework of ESA and national agencies. However in the mid 1990s, the European Commission realized that space could provide support to a host of its activities by leveraging other European space actor’s assets. To more effectively address its agenda, the European Commission also needed to develop its own programs, which it did with Galileo and GMES.
Europe
is therefore in the process of making space a community matter and is increasingly introducing a space dimension into its political ambitions worldwide. Space activities are being recognized more and more by many European decision-makers as strategic for
Europe
and its cohesion, and as a tool to serve the interests of the EU, its member states and its citizens.

 

After an extensive two-year debate among key European institutional decision-makers, the soon to be adopted European Space Policy will determine pan-European priorities, objectives, roles and responsibilities for its space program. This policy shall present the European vision for space and its related priorities and objectives including access to space, space technologies applications, industrial policy and international relations. It should bring a consensus among all European space actors and become a foundation for a fully functional European space program, leading ultimately to a coherent European space project.

 

Europe
has difficult and far-reaching choices to make regarding the shape and scope of its future in space. Getting everyone to agree on these issues is challenging, but
Europe
‘s record shows that it can reach general consensus in due time on important issues. As Robert Schuman, a founding father of modern
Europe
, said
May 9, 1950
: “
Europe
will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity.”

 

This is particularly true for
Europe
in space. Interdependence in space affairs and programs is needed to ensure the adhesion of all stakeholders behind a truly European project and a coherent forward-looking agenda, and to limit the trend of re-nationalization of European space activities witnessed in recent months.

 

In addition, further discussion will undoubtedly prove necessary for a number of other fundamental issues in 2007, which the first European space policy may fail to address adequately.

 

One potential issue is the different geography of
Europe
in space. ESA, with its 17 member states, is not a subset of the EU, now at 27 members. As such
Norway
and
Switzerland
are members of ESA but not the EU, while 12 countries that have joined the EU since 2004 are not members of ESA (albeit some participate in some ESA projects).

 

This different geography of space affairs and therefore of implicit space governance undoubtedly will need to be addressed and tackled soon. This could be done in a format similar to the 1998 Saint-Malo Summit – which led to a significant agreement regarding European defense policy – and a European space summit should include all EU and ESA member states.

 

There are also a lot of questions to be answered when it comes to
Europe
‘s place in space in a global context. Nevertheless, the positive contemporary trend is that
Europe
soon will have some pan-European guidelines and an official space policy that will frame its future space activities.

 

The world has changed tremendously since the beginning of the European integration and the space age 50 years ago. The enlarged
Europe
, while acknowledging new realities, also must adapt to them and should develop an agenda that looks forward to tackle the upcoming challenges and opportunities of this new century. For all these reasons 2007 will be an important and interesting year for
Europe
in space.
Europe
has come a long way since the launch of its union by the Schuman declaration in 1950. It has been able to achieve its goals where it has powers and instruments with which to act (i.e. single market and single currency). Hopefully the European Space Policy will provide a solid foundation for a future ambitious
Europe
in space and allow
Europe
to remain a major space actor of the 21st century.

 


Nicolas Peter is a junior expert at the European Space Policy Institute in Vienna,


Austria


.