Minister for Europe David Lidington speaking at a 2012 conference. Credit: Foreign & Commonwealth Office

PARIS — The British government has reaffirmed its support for the European Union-coordinated International Code of Conduct on Outer Space Activities but said its services would remain on the alert to stop the EU from actually negotiating any European commitment to it.

In response to a Parliamentary inquiry published Jan. 30, Britain’s Minister for Europe, David Lidington, sought to assuage concerns that the 28-nation EU might substitute itself for individual European governments when negotiating adoption of the code.

“The government has previously made clear that the EU does not have the competence to negotiate the Code of Conduct on EU member states’ behalf,” Lidington told the Parliament’s European Scrutiny Committee. He said the commission’s mandate is limited to organizing meetings to promote the Code and to consult with nations outside Europe about its benefits – and no more.

Any further authority would need to be explicitly given to the commission by the EU Council, a decision which is not imminent. The Parliament’s report said the minister “did not envisage the EU seeking to increase its role beyond facilitation, but that his officials were alert to any move to do so.”

The frontier between the commission’s authority and that of individual European governments – the so-called “subsidiarity” principle – is a perennial hot button in the commission’s relations with EU member states.

The EU began seeking support for a Code of Conduct governing actions in space in 2007. It was first foreseen as a treaty, but it met opposition from several quarters, initially including the United States and, later, from some developing space powers that suspected an EU move to limit these nations’ access to space.

It has since been recast as a nonbinding “framework” that encourage nations to adopt best practices with respect to space debris and transparency in space activities.

Lidington said the EU hopes to begin a multilateral “negotiation process” by the middle of this year, after which the Code of Conduct would be opened for signature by individual nations.

To facilitate activities of the European External Action Service in promoting the Code of Conduct, the Parliament was asked to approve a budget for seminars and “multilateral negotiation meetings,” which presumably are not to be confused with negotiations.

The budget for the year is 1,274,399 euros, or about $1.5 million.

Peter B. de Selding was the Paris bureau chief for SpaceNews.