EU Aims for Unified Space Policy

European Commission proposal calls for cooperation on civil and defense space programs and technologies, and a pooling of resources

The European Commission has unveiled a proposal for a collective space policy in the EU, aiming to pool the resources of the 27 member states to create a space strategy to face global challenges.

The proposal, tabled together with the European Space Agency (ESA) on Thursday (26 April), focused in particular on creating a European space programme while coordinating and making more effective use of resources and efforts from across the bloc.

It also called for more cooperative work between defence and civil space programmes and technologies as well as developing joint international relations in space, such as the possibility of the EU to work with China and India on ESA's planned Mars mission.

"Today's proposal marks a milestone, to ensure that Europe does not miss out on the important opportunities that space policy offers," said EU industry commissioner Guenter Verheugen when he presented the report in Brussels.

He noted that although Europe is a world leader in the technology sector, the EU is far behind the US and Russia while China and India are racing to catch up with Europe's 10 year technological advantage.

Europe needs its own space policy if it wants to secure its economic and political future, the commissioner added. "We need our independence," he said, referring to the project which is estimated to cost around €2.4 billion.

The EU already has a couple of high-profile space projects up its sleeve. Europe is currently in process of launching Global Monitoring for the Environment and Security (GMES) which aims to find an efficient system of combining data collected from satellites and other information on the two issues.

Once in operation, the system will supply the bloc with independent environment, security and climate change information, which can, for example, give the exact number of people in need of aid in a refugee camp, catch oil tankers dumping waste in the sea and "to support timely preparation by public authorities...for crisis management," according to the EU executive.

SPACE DELAYSThe EU executive was originally expected to come forward with an EU space policy plan in late 2005 after Brussels had outlined its key elements in May that year.

But the idea had difficulties getting off the ground with political wrangling behind the scenes - including friction between the commission and the ESA over how space initiatives should be handled.

In addition, an internal power struggle in the consortium set to implement and run another of the EU's flagship projects - the Galileo satellite navigation system - have also led to serious delays in the bloc's biggest ever joint technological project.

Galileo is aimed to be a network of satellites set to create a much more accurate navigation system than the US Global Position System (GPS), which is run by the US military and which Europeans currently depend on.

"We do not have the option of giving up on Galileo," Mr Verheugen pointed out. "Whatever problems may have arisen, it remains a central project for the European Union," he stated.

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