EU in Space: Competitivity Focus

The EU's space strategy should benefit EU citizens and environment protection while boosting EU’s competitiveness, research and innovation, according to the Commission’s Communication on EU Space Strategy, presented last week. Attention is paid to concrete economic benefits, such as advances in agricultural technology and practice, logistics, and other areas.

In space-related matters, the EU has shared competence with the Member States. The EU thus has a specific mandate to draw up a European space policy, and, to this end, support research and technological development and coordinate the efforts needed for the exploration and exploitation of space.

The new space policy is part part of the “Industrial Policy Flagship Initiative” under the Europe 2020 Strategy for smart sustainable and inclusive growth.  Europe's space policy is aimed at promoting technological and scientific progress, stimulating industrial innovation and competitiveness, enabling European citizens to reap the benefits of space applications and raising Europe's profile on the international stage in the area of space. The Commission Communication sets out the priority actions designed to put those objectives into practice.

Space as response to social, economic and strategic challenges

Space activities and applications often have a direct impact on citizens' daily lives. In this context, space policy is an instrument serving the EU's internal and external policies and could respond to different areas:

• Social: the citizens' well-being could depend on space policy in areas such as the environment, combating climate change, public and civil security, humanitarian and development aid, transport and the information society;

• Economic: space could generate knowledge, new products and new forms of industrial cooperation, and therefore improve innovation and contribute to competitiveness, growth and job creation; 

• strategic: space could serve to imporve EU’s position as a major player on the international stage and contribute to the EU's economic and political independence.

Priority Actions for the European Space Policy

The Space Council, a joint association at the ministerial level of the EU Competitiveness Council and of the European Space Agency Council, approved the Galileo and GMES projects as priority actions for the European Space Policy.

Satellite navigation: the Galileo and EGNOS programmes

Galileo is the first satellite navigation system designed for civilian use. It would enable the EU to remain independent in a strategically important field, at a time when reliance on global navigation systems continues to grow.

EGNOS (European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service) was the first European satellite navigation measure, and its goal is to improve the quality of the signals transmitted to European territory by global satellite navigation systems. The systems that emerged from the Galileo and EGNOS programmes represent the first major space facilities solely belonging to, and managed by, the EU.

These two programmes form an integral part of the Europe 2020 strategy, as they are intended to push the EU to the forefront by developing innovative ways of exploiting satellite navigation, creating new business opportunities, facilitating the provision of humanitarian aid and enhancing the well-being of Europe's citizens by, for instance, making transport safer and increasing civil protection. The benefits of these programmes for the EU concern all sectors of the economy, such as transport, telecommunications, the environment and security.

Global Monitoring for Environment and Security

A Regulation governing the initial operations of the GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security) programme 2011-2013 was adopted in 2010 by the European Parliament and the Council. The current priority is to ensure that it is implemented quickly and effectively, in partnership with the Member States, and that it is fully operational by 2014.

The purpose of the GMES programme is to guarantee continuous access to information services on the environment and security issues which are based on permanent space-based observation and in-situ infrastructures. The GMES programme plays important role in monitoring the sea, land and atmospheric environment, aiming to facilitate better understanding of the European and global environments as a basis for policy. It will help underpin a sustainable use of resources as well as providing better information on climate change.

It may thus be used to support policies on climate change adaptation and security, and to contribute to crisis prevention and management, with particular emphasis on humanitarian aid, development assistance and civil protection. Space observation, along with observation from other sources, provides with information to improve understanding of how the climate is evolving and enables polycimakers to draw up policy to adapt to that development.

It is necessary to build on existing space monitoring infrastructure and to ensure the continuity of the infrastructure needed in order to implement and pursue policies to combat and adapt to climate change.

Security and Defence

Discussions are taking place to analyse how new developments affecting space technologies can contribute to effective solutions for areas such as monitoring borders, support for the EU's external action, maritime surveillance, complex emergencies, humanitarian aid and civil protection.

Although GMES is a programme solely for civilian use, it is important to identify how both civilian and military-use observation resources can contribute to the GMES programme, for example, for the systematic surveillance of large geographical areas or the tactical surveillance of smaller areas.

Space exploration

The EU should establish a closer link between space exploration and social and economic challenges by merging the interests of the different Member States and ensuring that internal resources are used effectively. There is a political dimension to space exploration that goes beyond the issues inherent in research and development.

Following consultation between the EU, the ESA, the Member States concerned and the international partners, four priorities have been identified: critical technologies, the International Space Station, access to space and setting up a high-level international forum. Specifically, the EU seeks to identify and support the development of essential technologies for exploration, in particular in the fields of energy, health and recycling.

A high-level international platform should be set up in order to identify the areas of space exploration open to international cooperation, to strengthen the political dimension of international discussions on space exploration and to enhance cooperation synergies with non-Member States.

Boosting industrial competitiveness

The space industry is a key sector given society's increasing dependence on space infrastructure and applications for both civilian and military use. In the space industry, there is a high degree of concentration but few SMEs. In Europe, the space sector is highly reliant on public procurement, and has to contend with increased competition on the world market.

Boosting research and innovation

The EU needs a solid technological base if it is to have an independent, competitive space industry. It must also develop the necessary resources to meet long-term needs while maintaining basic space research. In this regard, it is vital to develop key generic technologies such as advanced materials and nanotechnology. In order to rectify current shortcomings, it is necessary to support research into critical technologies and breakthrough technologies, including research supporting space exploration.

Telecommunications satellites

Communications satellites constitute a key space sector, generating the largest revenues in the space industry, in both Europe and the rest of the world.

Communications satellites offer greater access to a broad range of economic and social services such as high-speed Internet, television and radio and improved transport facilities. They also facilitate the development of services for the citizens such as public safety and emergency-response, health and home-based services. They have a role to play in the  objective of bringing basic broadband to all Europeans, in particular for the most remote and rural regions of Europe, communication satellites can bring broadband connections. These developments will parallel the implementation of the GMES and Galileo programmes.

Strengthening cooperation at international level and with Member States and ESA

International cooperation should serve as a market opener for the promotion of European technology and services in the space field and so help strengthen this strategic industrial sector. It should also support the promotion of European values through space-based projects focused on environmental protection, climate change, sustainable development and humanitarian action.
The shared space competence conferred upon the EU by the TFEU goes hand in hand with a reinforced partnership with Member States in the form of policy dialogue and coordination. The EU should therefore strengthen its cooperation with the Member States and ensure the best possible programme management. This cooperation would reinforce the synergy of the EU's space policy with other policies that use the EU's or the Member States' space resources, such as transport, environment, research and innovation.

The ESA is an organisation with an intergovernmental and an EU dimension in which military and civil programmes can coexist. It implements programmes for its Member States and for the EU and has strong technical and management infrastructure and could support the development of new space facilities as regards both intergovernmental and EU-funded programmes. As regards the implementation of the Galileo and GMES programmes, the ESA is already subject to the EU's rules. The EU's increasing involvement in space entails re-assessing its relations with the ESA and gradually adapting the ESA's operations so that maximum benefit can be derived from the two organisations. The framework agreement between the EU and the ESA will probably need to be reviewed. 

Next steps: towards a European space programme

The Commission has submitted the new Space Strategy for the opinion of the Council, the European Parliament and the EU's consultative bodies, which is a necessary stage in the formation of the measures to be taken for that strategy to be implemented.

Article 189 of the Lisbon Treaty gives the EU a broader legal framework that enables it to define a distinct and complementary European space programme of more sector-based actions. The Commission is looking into the possibility of presenting a proposal for such a programme in 2011. Taking responses to this Communication into account, it will decide on its approach as part of its June proposal on the next multi-annual financial framework.

Later in the year, the Commission also intends to draft a proposal for legislation aimed at adapting the institutional framework that covers the Galileo and EGNOS programmes. It is important to ensure that the satellite constellation required to pursue these programmes is put in place within a reasonable amount of time and that all of the provisions required for the gradual deployment of Galileo services are implemented.