In Edinburgh in November 2001, Mr Romano Prodi became the first
European Commission president to attend an ESA ministerial Council
meeting, the forum where Europe’s major space programmes are decided.
There were good reasons for this.

For specialists such as Jean-Pol Poncelet, ESA’S Director of strategy
and external relations, this event demonstrates the very important
links being forged between the European Union and the European Space

"This shows that space resources have truly become a European Union
concern and that Europe must make intelligent use of them if it is
to be the world’s most efficient knowledge-based and information
society, in line with the Lisbon summit objective. To that end, the
EU needs ESA, for its expertise and know-how," says Mr Poncelet,
who also considers that "this marked political support on the part
of the EU and the Commission president could serve as a tremendous
political lever for ESA".

A beneficial partnership

Although the history and culture of these two European bodies are
very different, their constitutional status and often complementary
objectives are leading them to develop a closer relationship and
work together more and more.

"We are now at the point where the EU and ESA have a shared interest
in working together to carry out jointly agreed projects",
emphasises Mr Poncelet, who joined ESA’s senior management at its
Paris headquarters in summer 2001.

A good example is undoubtedly the recent decision to go ahead
with Galileo, the ambitious European satellite navigation and
positioning programme. This is the perfect illustration of
cooperation between one institution — the EU — which, because it
needs space facilities, commits to paying for half a project, and a
second — ESA — which, possessing the expertise and technological
capability, adopts the same attitude and funds the other half of
the project. This is a new departure in the history of Europe and
such a partnership between the EU and ESA is beneficial to both

"I consider Galileo to represent a crucial strategic challenge
for Europe", says Antonio Rodotà, ESA’s Director General. "With
Galileo, it will be the first time that a truly European
infrastructure is set up, that will be able to benefit all
Europeans. And the only political and regulatory entity that can
impose political rules in Europe is the EU. ESA does not have that
authority. The EU is its natural partner in developing a system
intended for Europe’s citizens. The point is that Galileo will
become a tangible reality for everyone and will not simply remain
a nice technology demonstration project developed by ESA."

On the recommendation of the European policy-makers, ESA has placed
the GMES programme (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security)
at the top of its priorities, alongside Galileo. These two
programmes alone account for 20% of the EUR 7.8 billion committed
by ESA for the next four to five years.

Irreplaceable expertise

Is this to say that before the EU became involved, ESA was unable
and powerless to manage or even have a space policy?

"Not at all!", exclaims Mr Poncelet, assuring that "it would be a
complete misunderstanding of the Agency’s history to believe that
a European space policy is now being created thanks to the EU. On
the contrary, it was ESA’s 30 years of success and leadership that
aroused the EU’s interest in the Agency." For this former Belgian
deputy prime minister, the Agency’s record is exemplary in more
ways than one for Europe. First of all, there was its political
success in bringing together its 15 member states. In terms of
technology, its success has been even more striking, reflected
mainly in the design and construction of the Ariane-5 launcher,
considered today as the most advanced in the world. The Agency
has also been successful from the industrial standpoint, with a
strategy that has produced a solid industrial base Europe-wide,
one that moreover is equitably distributed across the various
countries concerned.

With such honourable results, making ESA a model of European
cooperation, one can rightly ask what it is that political Europe,
in the form of the EU institutions, can bring the Agency in this
process of establishing a closer relationship.

"However effective it might be, ESA — by the very nature of its
status and history — is an intergovernmental agency, which means
that power has not been delegated to it by its member states. We
can therefore only do what they authorise or ask us to do. By
contrast, the European Union was established under a treaty and
one of the reasons for that was to make it a supranational body.
EU institutions can take decisions autonomously, on behalf of
their member states, without having to consult them each time."

For example, the European Commission has full responsibility for
the competition policy and can fine firms whose behaviour it
considers contrary to free competition. Similarly, it can
negotiate, with the USA for instance, trade rules applicable to
all member states.

"In ESA’s case, to build on our space policy, there are powers
we lack, such as the EU’s ability to regulate. For example,
concerning GPS and Galileo, a great number of issues will arise
in the future, such as frequency management, regulation of the
future market for the next generation of GPS terminals, or
protection of privacy, which could be threatened by, say, unlawful
use of a guidance system to make motorists drive to the address of
some advertiser. All those very important regulatory aspects fall
outside ESA’s competence and must be dealt with by the EU if these
space programmes are to become a reality."

Space, an instrument of European policy

However, the crucial support that the EU could give ESA in numerous
areas is not just one-way. Europe’s policy makers too have become
aware of how essential space technologies are for promoting the
programmes and policies they wish to conduct.

"In an increasing number of domains, space facilities have become
essential and no one is calling into question ESA’s competence and
know-how. It would be impossible to envisage a transport policy
that did not require radio-navigation systems such as Galileo. An
environmental policy without space-based remote sensing or Earth
observation is similarly unthinkable, as is telecoms development
without space infrastructure. The list goes on."

This rapprochement is therefore not by any means a power struggle
between two European institutions attempting to dictate rules to
one another or impose themselves on one another, as some might
fear. Each of the organisations has its own, recognised remit.
"The Agency should not feel threatened or abandon its operating
principles. It is just a matter of making certain resources
available to the EU or benefiting from their support and influence
where there is a need. This process can be time-consuming, as we
have to learn to work together on complex issues."

Security issues

At the Edinburgh meeting, Mr Prodi invited the EU and ESA to pay
more attention to security and, indirectly, defence. Mr Rodotà
responded favourably, saying that in consultation with the EU and
its Council, he would examine how space technologies could be
used in the field of the common foreign and security policy. "The
Agency should contribute to European security, though this will
not consist in starting up military programmes, let there be no
mistake about that," declared the Director General of ESA, whose
convention rules out any military activity.

"It seems, on rereading the wording "for exclusively peaceful
purposes" in Article II of the Agency’s convention," says Mr
Poncelet, "that it no longer has the meaning intended at the time
by the founders in the context of the Cold War. The concept has
evolved a great deal over 30 years. For us today, it basically
comes down to ‘non-aggressive’", points out the former Belgian
defence minister.

For example, Norway, in monitoring its substantial fishing
activities, its ships throughout the world (which represent 10%
of world shipping) and its oil interests (oil and natural gas
provide 15% to 20% of national income), makes use of satellite
facilities — radar, remote sensing, observation, telecoms,
etc. — and these are crucial to its security. Yet this type of
security-related space policy has nothing to do with strictly
military matters.

Should ESA, given the world as it is today, consider modifying
its convention with respect to defence?

"Certainly not," replies Mr Poncelet clearly. "What matters is that
everyone should perceive and interpret the convention in the same
way. None of the member states considers that using Europe’s Ariane
launcher to deploy military satellites such as Helios, Skynet and
others with military payloads contradicted ESA’s principles. The
Franco-Spanish intelligence satellite Helios and its payload was
even tested at ESA’s science and technology centre (ESTEC). This
shows that the consensus has evolved naturally and that peaceful
purposes can very well mean security purposes too."

In addition, taking into account the commercial challenges in
prospect and the increasingly competitive environment, this
security-based approach is a way for Europe to broaden the
financial or commercial base of its space activities, as it also
represents a sizeable market, commercial satellites making up only
about 30% of the world total.

"I think it makes sense for ESA to take an interest in these
security and defence matters and discuss them with the EU. That
is in line with Europeans’ desire to be autonomous and independent
where their security is concerned. They wish to be able to handle
crisis management missions or peacekeeping operations themselves.
But collective defence does of course remain a NATO task and any
conflict would have to be dealt with by the Atlantic Alliance."

Related articles

* A. Rodotà

* J-P. Poncelet

Related Links

* European Union

* Galileo



[Image 1:]
Developed by ESA in collaboration with the European Union and
co-funded by the two organisations on a 50-50 basis, Galileo is a
complete civil system, designed to be operational from 2008 and to
provide the world in general and Europeans in particular with an
accurate, secure and certified satellite positioning system.
Credits: ESA – J. Huart

[Image 2:]
ESA’s New Director of Strategy and External Relations, Mr Poncelet.
Credits: ESA – P.Sebirot

[Image 3:]
The first MERIS observation captured the huge phytoplankton patch
produced by the ‘upwelling’ mechanism along the west coast of
Africa near Mauritania. The unprecedented resolution allows
fine-scale structures to be detected. In such upwelling areas,
northeast trade winds bring deep and nutrient-rich water to the
surface, feeding phytoplankton. Changes in climate affect the
intensity of the upwelling with important consequences for marine
ecosystems, fisheries and local economies.

One important task for MERIS is to provide overviews of the
dynamics of upwelling areas and their primary production. This,
in turn, could improve management of fish stocks within
sustainable limits. Another important task for MERIS is to
provide information on carbon fixation through photosynthesis
within the global ocean for a better understanding of the carbon

Technical Information:

Instrument: MEdium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MERIS)

Date of Acquisition: 22 March 2002

Orbit number: 00306

Instrument features: Full resolution image (300-meter resolution).

MERIS was designed to measure the concentration of phytoplankton.
The colours seen by MERIS indicate the concentration of
chlorophyll, the pigment that phytoplankton use for photosynthesis.
MERIS can detect chlorophyll concentrations of less than
1/10,000,000 of a gram per litre. MERIS data will be used to
monitor the worldwide distribution of phytoplankton and to compute
primary production.

Credits: ESA

[Image 4:]
Opening of the Ministerial Conference in Edinburgh, 14 November 2001

[Image 5:]
This image is from the Envisat launch campaign, showing the Ariane
5 launcher on its launch pad on ELA-3 (Complex Area no.3 at CSG,
European spaceport facilities in French Guiana), 28 February at
10:00 am Kourou time. Credits: ESA/CNES/ARIANESPACE – S.Corvaja