More space for more Europe

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Ariane 5 lifts off from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou on Tuesday 12 December 2017, carrying Galileo satellites 19–22. [European Space Agency / Flickr]

2018 will be a crucial year to shape a stimulating new narrative for EU space policy. Jean-Loic Galle lists a couple of key points ahead of the 10th EU space policy conference taking place in Brussels on 23 and 24 January.

Jean-Loic Galle is President of Eurospace, and CEO of Thales Alenia Space.

2017 has been a fertile year for space in Europe: our European industry has consolidated its leadership, with, as in previous years, an increase in sales which supported 40,000 jobs.

In terms of EU space policy developments as well, 2017 was a busy year. The Member States, in dedicated Council conclusions, and the European Parliament, in a specific report, confirmed the level of ambitions expressed by the European Commission in the space strategy for Europe. There is no doubt then that the EU institutions are all aligned to support Europe’s leadership, competitiveness and strategic autonomy in the space domain.

Nevertheless, we must all keep in mind that Europe is not playing alone in the space business. Indeed, while Europe invested €7.7bn in space in 2017, NASA’s budget amounted to $19 bn and US DoD budget was about $24 bn (without mentioning private US investors from the ICT sector). In the meantime, the Russian budget has grown by more than 10% a year over the past decade, while Chinese space activities keep growing regularly in all application areas including exploration, and India launched a very ambitious space strategy.

Considering this challenging and fast-moving international environment, the upcoming MFF negotiations will be decisive to make the Space strategy for Europe’s ambitious objectives the effective basis of post-2020 EU space policy.

Ensuring continuity and stability to the ongoing EGNOS, Galileo and Copernicus programmes should be a first key priority, since they work well, deliver concrete results and are recognised worldwide for their quality. In order to reap the full benefits, EU space flagship programmes should be seen as an enabling instrument to tackle the EU’s societal challenges and political objectives.

Although significant progress has already been made, efforts should be intensified to maximise the contribution of the EU space flagship programmes to all key sectoral policies, such as, for example, the common agricultural policy, completion of the Digital Single Market, climate monitoring and control policy, transport infrastructure management and border control.

Promoting more efficient support to competitiveness policy is another important aspect: in line with the objectives of the Space Strategy, the European space industry strongly recommends that the EU to strengthen its leverage to space research, development and innovation by furthering a dedicated line under FP9. Similarly, addressing the appropriate areas of space technology development with the appropriate (grant-based) instruments would be needed to further the achievements of Horizon 2020.

In the post-2020 set-up, we also support the implementation of a Joint Technology Initiative focused on ‘Technological innovation for a competitive space industry’, which was initially pushed by the European Parliament.

Then, reinforcing Europe’s independent access to space is a pre-condition for our continent to stay among the few world ‘space powers’. In this respect, as laid out in the space strategy, the progressive establishment of a European exploitation framework –aggregating and securing regular orders from the European institutional launch service market for Launchers developed in Europe – is a crucial step forward: first, this approach will help to reinforce the competitiveness of a leading European space industry segment. It will also help level the playing field with other space powers, which have always benefited from their captive market.

Developing new ambitions in space to tackle new grand challenges should be a last angle of reflection, in two promising sectors: the advent of the digital economy, and the development of a strong EU defence policy.

Regarding space and the digital world: let’s not forget that satellites are fine means – most of the time unique and essential – to collect and distribute data all over the world. The efforts of the EU to accelerate the transition towards a data-driven economy cannot be decoupled from Europe having sufficient control of its capacity to access and disseminate information. Space is not only part of the digital agenda: it is above all a critical infrastructure of a digitalised society in a globalised world. In the context of future 5G networks, for instance, numerous applications and services using space data will require uninterrupted connectivity everywhere that can be obtained only through the use of satellites.

As regards space and security/defence issues: Europe is still the only space-faring power with limited defence-related space programmes, even though this capability is a key element of independent decision-making and action. Security of European assets in space, as well as security from space, should therefore be central in the ongoing defence-related discussions at EU level.

All in all, 2018 will be a crucial year to shape a stimulating new narrative for EU space policy after 2020, i.e relevant priorities supported by an appropriate budget and a clear regulatory framework, putting economic growth, societal progress and the well-being of EU citizens at the heart of its guiding principles.

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