Auditors slam EU over Galileo

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The European Commission’s leadership and management skills have been found wanting by a Court of Auditors report into the EU’s much-delayed Galileo satellite navigation project. The report, published on 29 June, also blames individual countries for defending their commercial interests throughout the programme.

Galileo, the first industrial programme to be managed at European level, has been beset by long-running delays that have seen the project fail to meet deadlines. 

First suggested by the European Commission in 1994, the project involves the establishment of a network of navigational satellites to rival the Global Positioning System (GPS) run by the United States. 

The Court of Auditors report addressed the 2003–2006 period, when the project was managed by the Galileo Joint Undertaking (GJU), a body set up by the European Commission and the European Space Agency to manage the development and validation phase of the project. 

Management of this phase was judged “inadequate” by the Court’s report, which concluded that the GJU “did not achieve most of its objectives”. 

In a strong condemnation of the Commission’s role in this multi-billion euro project, the Court’s conclusions declared that the Commission “did not provide adequate leadership in developing and managing Galileo”. 

While the Court found that the Galileo project had experienced problems “at different levels,” the GJU’s “most important task” was to negotiate a public-private partnership (PPP) investment deal, which stalled in early 2007. 

The Court found that the PPP was “inadequately prepared and conceived,” and lays the blame with the Commission for requiring the GJU to negotiate a PPP which the auditors describe as “unrealistic”. 

“The GJU did not achieve most of its objectives – owing, however, to factors that were largely outside the GJU’s control,” states the report. It found that the GJU’s task was adversely affected by “governance issues, an incomplete budget, delays and the industrial organisation of the development and validation phase,” issues for which the Commission receives much of the blame. 

A lack of clearly defined roles between member states, the Commission and other agencies also hindered the GJU’s progess, and is the root of much of the Court’s criticism of the EU executive. 

“The programme lacked a strong strategic sponsor and supervisor: the Commission did not proactively direct the programme, leaving it without a helmsman,” states the Court’s report. 

Member states also come in for criticism for putting the commercial interests of their own national industries ahead of the Galileo programme. 

“Owing to their different programme expectations, member states intervened in the interest of their national industries and held up decisions. The compromises made led to implementation problems, delays and, in the end, to cost overruns,” noted the Court. 

The Galileo satellite navigation system is Europe's civilian alternative to the US Global Positioning System (GPS) and the Russian GLONASS system, which are both funded and controlled by military authorities. 

The European Commission presented its initial plans in 1999, but the final agreement with EU member states was struck almost ten years later, in November 2007, after protracted discussions over the project's funding (see EURACTIV LinksDossier). 

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