(23 July 2008). All member states are politically committed to promoting more EU action on space, the French Presidency said after a two-day informal meeting of the bloc’s ministers for space. But the issue of where the money for this increased ambition will actually come from will only be discussed later.
EU ministers in charge of space affairs met in Kourou, the European Space Agency’s main spaceport in French Guiana, on 21-22 July. On the agenda were the EU’s overall space strategy, the role of space in fighting climate change and its contribution to Europe’s competitiveness as well as potential synergies between civil and military space activities.
The message of the meeting is that “space is back” as one of the EU’s policy priorities, said Enterprise and Industry Commissioner Günter Verheugen after the meeting. He said the ministers had agreed that space policy plays an important role in overall European integration and acts as a catalyst for the development of new technologies. Verheugen also underlined that the ministers had agreed that independent access to space is of strategic importance to the EU in several areas, such as in combating climate change, bioterrorism and natural disasters.
In particular, the EU’s new member states, which have traditionally not taken a big interest in space, now understand that the 21st century will be space-driven, said the French Minister for Higher Education and Research Valérie Pécresse, adding that “all member states have now agreed to play a political role” in the development of EU space policy. She also listed Slovakia, Slovenia, Cyprus and Malta among those to express an interest in joining the European Space Agency (ESA), which so far includes just 15 EU countries.
However, both Verheugen and Pécresse stressed that a concrete, increased budget for EU space activities must be agreed upon to ensure the long-term sustainability of such ambitious activities. So far, an operational EU budget for space only exists up to 2010. The expenditure should, according to Pécresse, be added to the current EU budget for research.
Increasing the EU’s space budget could be discussed at a high-level conference that the Commission is currently preparing to launch discussions on the strengths and weaknesses of the European space industry.
The ministers also discussed a French initiative to establish a European climate research centre to better exploit the data collected via meteorological satellites and bring together European climate change researchers. Ministers decided that no separate new centre was necessary, but stressed that cooperation between national activities in this regard would be strengthened within the framework of the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI). In addition, the Commission might conduct an in-depth analysis on space and climate change.
The aim of the meeting was to prepare the decisions to be made at the next Space Council, a joint meeting of EU competitiveness ministers and representatives of the European Space Agency (ESA) member states, set to take place on 26 September 2008. The subsequent ESA ministerial conference in November will then be expected to turn the decisions into concrete programmes.