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Galileo Gets the Green Light

A European version of GPS will go ahead now that bureaucratic budget squabbles are over. The Galileo navigation system is scheduled to go live in 2013

The European Union agreed Friday to complete the development of a satellite navigation system to rival the American GPS network, beating an end-of-the-year deadline for approving the project. The agreement to finish the much-delayed "Galileo" project overrode Spain's insistence on a larger share in the venture.

Most of the €2.4 billion ($3.56 billion) needed to finish the system will come from unused EU agricultural funds, according to officials cited by the Associated Press. Galileo has a total budget of €3.4 billion ($5 billion).

Spain, saying it wanted to build a ground station for Galileo on its territory, mounted a last-minute effort to block the project on Friday. But a majority of EU transport ministers from the 27 member states voted in favor of completing development.

Germany a Major Contributor

The German government contributes more than any other EU member to Galileo -- and to the union's budget as a whole -- and German firms will profit accordingly from the new project, with one of the two Galileo ground stations being located near Munich. The other control center will be near Rome.

Galileo, which is planned to be in operation by 2013, will be a 30-satellite network designed to be interoperable with America's 24-satellite GPS. Navigation systems in Europe now use GPS, but GPS is run by the US military and the Pentagon has made clear that it could scramble the signals in the event of a war or some other national emergency. Galileo would not only give the EU more independence but also improve coverage in some areas, like dense big cities and remoter parts of the continent.

"Nobody can rely on somebody else's system," said Javier Benedicto, Galleo's project manager. "This is why the Russians, the Chinese, the Indians, the US and also the Europeans have to deploy their own system in order to match their own needs."

But the project has met bureaucratic as well as technical delays -- the second satellite short-circuited just before its scheduled launch in 2006 -- and critics say the system could prove to be an expensive boondoggle.

Early in 2007, the system was still conceived of as a public-private partnership. But the private companies walked away from the project, reportedly because they were afraid most commercial customers for Galileo would be inclined to use free services offered by GPS instead.

Provided by Spiegel Online—Read the latest from Europe's largest newsmagazine

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