Space is not the final frontier

Written by Franck Proust on 19 January 2018 in Opinion
Opinion

Europe must be realistic when it comes to its space policy, and protect its industry to ensure the EU space sector can compete globally, says Franck Proust.

Franck Proust | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual


From institutions to private actors, all Europeans must realise that working to support Europe in becoming the space power of the 21st century should be a common goal, bringing benefits to all citizens.

The political will exists. With the ‘Space strategy for Europe’, EU leaders have demonstrated their support for a competitive European space sector, against a background of intense global competition. The 10th conference on European space policy is therefore an opportunity to demonstrate that actions speak louder than words.

Europe’s space industry represents a huge part of our economy, directly employing around 40,000 people and approximately 250,000 indirectly while generating an annual value-added of around €50bn. Space is also a sector of excellence in many parts of Europe, for instance in my region in the south-west in France or in French Guiana, which hosts Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou.


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Space is an opportunity for Europe, but Europe has to be an opportunity, not an obstacle, for space. This was a key message defended by ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet, whom I invited to debate space in the European Parliament last November. His six-month mission on the international space station has been a tremendous opportunity to bring citizens and space closer together.

This is exactly what we need - success stories showing how and why space is important for our daily life and our future.

The main challenge we have to overcome is to realise the full benefit of practical applications of space. This can be achieved in several fields: health, climate change, transport, natural disasters management, agriculture as well as also security and defence.

Strengthening the competitiveness of our space sector demands coherence and a long-term vision. Between 2014 and 2020, the EU will invest more than €12bn in space policy. However, as we need to invest better, rather than always more, I defend the principle of smart investments, particularly in the field of research and development.

In Europe, expenditure on R&D represents only 10 per cent of the space sector turnover, compared to more than 30 per cent in the United States for civil activities alone. American public support for civil space is four times higher than all national space budgets in Europe. Let us be realistic: ‘new space’ activities would not be possible without such public support from US authorities.

In line with the goals of the space strategy for Europe, I will fight for greater clarity in the next competitiveness and innovation framework programme by defending a specific heading dedicated to space. 

In other fields, for example when discussing the future of the common agricultural policy, we will need to promote synergies with EU space programmes that allow farmers to modernise and optimise their activities. In parallel, there is a need to secure the future of European programmes like Galileo, Copernicus and EGNOS.

Additionally, a key challenge we face is to better integrate space as an enabler for our foreign policy and strategic autonomy in Europe. I usually say that today’s customers could be tomorrow’s competitors, particularly the emerging powers. 

Hence, we need to promote a clear trade defence strategy in order to protect and support our European know-how in the space sector value chains. I will take this objective into consideration as Parliament’s rapporteur on a screening mechanism for foreign investments in strategic sectors.

It is also in our interest to put paid to viewing the principle of European preference in the field of institutional launches as taboo. Public institutions, working in priority with European companies, should go without saying. This is not protectionism, this is realism - it’s also exactly what our competitors do.

We also need to establish a genuine EU economic diplomacy, in which space could be a pilot sector. But beyond words, we need to put in place concrete tools to increase European companies’ presence in foreign markets, particularly for our SMEs.

Finally, space has, by definition, become dual use. This reality should be better acknowledged. Galileo is an example of a programme that needs to be used more for civil activities, for example as a tool to support the automotive industry and its customers in terms of navigation services. But it can also be part of concrete achievements of a Europe of Defence, as it is now necessary to generalise use of a system fully independent of the American GPS.

We must fight for a less naive and more reactive Europe at global level. This ambition will become a reality if we pool our efforts in designing a frame that ensures fair competition, increasing our independent access to space and making our space sector ready to adapt to new trends and technologies of the market.

 

About the author

Franck Proust (EPP, FR) is a Vice-Chair of Parliament’s sky and space intergroup

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