PARIS — European Union (EU) governments on Feb. 18 adopted a watered-down version of a proposal relating to future dealings with the European Space Agency (), omitting references to security concerns with ESA’s non-EU members and glossing over differences in contract award procedures.
Meeting in Brussels, the EU Competitiveness Council nonetheless agreed on the value of a “cost-benefit analysis and impact assessment” of various ways the European Commission and ESA could work together.
The resolution, adopted without debate, is far from the European Commission’s initial proposal in November. That statement said the fact that the 20-nation ESA includes Canada, Norway and Switzerland as members raises concerns as ESA and the commission work together on dual-use and security- or military-related space projects.
The document also said ESA’s policy guaranteeing that its member states’ domestic industries will receive contracts in direct proportion to their ESA contributions is incompatible with the commission’s value-for-money principles.
The document’s overall tone was that ESA should be absorbed into the European Commission and follow commission rules.
The commission views ESA as a technical manager for space programs overseen by the commission on behalf of the 27 EU member states. ESA views the commission’s space budget as a force multiplier for ESA at a time when its own budget is relatively flat.
The European Commission’s credibility as an ESA partner has been undermined by the management of the Galileo positioning, navigation and timing satellite constellation, now owned by the commission. The project, while well under way and expected to provide initial services by 2015, has been delayed by a lack of coordination between ESA, which manages its development, and its European Commission owners.
The European Union agreed Feb. 8 to fund Galileo between 2014 and 2020 as promised, but with its proposed budget cut by 10 percent, to 6.3 billion euros ($8.5 billion) over the seven-year period.
Even more disorganized have been relations over the Copernicus/GMES network of satellites and ground sensors for environmental monitoring.
ESA and the commission spent more than 3 billion euros on Copernicus/GMES on the assumption that the commission would then take over as of 2014 by maintaining the satellite and ground infrastructure, including the launch of replacement satellites.
But with budget pressures mounting, the commission proposed to remove Copernicus/GMES from its seven-year budget and to seek alternative funding methods. That met with protest from ESA, the European Parliament and prospective Copernicus/GMES users.
The commission ultimately agreed to reinsert Copernicus/GMES into the seven-year budget, but with far less funding than what ESA said is needed to assure data continuity and user loyalty. On Feb. 8, EU governments approved 3.78 billion in Copernicus/GMES funding over the seven-year period, a 35 percent reduction from the proposed level.
Europe’s ASD-Eurospace space industry association wrote EU President Herman Van Rompuy Feb. 18 evoking the “many criticisms” of the budget level agreed to by EU government heads of state.
But the letter, signed by Eurospace President Evert Dudok, who is also chief executive of Astrium Services, a unit of Europe’s EADS aerospace giant, said even the reduced Copernicus/GMES funding “can be adapted to deliver its immense added value” — if ESA also helps out.
ESA officials have penciled in funding for future Copernicus/GMES efforts. But citing its principal role as a research and development agency, ESA had said its participation in the program should be limited to technology development, and not include system maintenance and operations.
ESA is faced with adapting its own Earth observation program to a funding level that is far reduced from what it had sought from its governments.
A third source of space-sector funding in the seven-year budget is part of the Horizon 2020 research and technology development program. It remains unclear how much space sector support will survive the current budget negotiations. A preliminary estimate is that space projects would receive 1.35 billion euros over the seven years.
The seven-year EU proposed budget will be forwarded to the European Parliament for ratification. The parliament issued a statement Feb. 18 saying it does not like the budget as approved Feb. 8 and wants it to include more flexibility for the European Commission.
Addressing the European Parliament Feb. 18, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said he shared the parliamentarians’ concerns. Barroso said the commission would push for authority to move funds from one category to another as the need arises, and the ability to retain funds from one year to another if they are not used rather than automatically return the money to EU member states.