A United Europe in Space

Written by Johann-Dietrich Wörner on 24 January 2019 in Opinion
Opinion

Entering space 4.0, Europe’s agencies need to cooperate closely to maximise benefits, writes Johann-Dietrich Wörner.

Photo Credit:European Space Agency


Space matters to Europe, providing infrastructure for numerous applications. The ESA has been Europe’s gateway to space for decades and continues to be a catalyst for cooperation between European countries in the sector.

By pooling skills, expertise and knowledge from its twenty-two Member States, the ESA has improved the lives of citizens, strengthened the industry and provided European and national decision makers with the tools to realise large-scale policy programmes.

The ESA allows its Member States, the EU and third parties to embark on space activities and projects beyond the scope of any single European state. The rationale behind this cooperation in previous decades is a simple but important understanding: only by joining forces can we match the major space actors.


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The ESA is internationally recognised for its successful programmes. It has been mandated by its Member States and stakeholders to develop space for peaceful purposes.

Recognising the need to elaborate and implement a long-term European space policy, develop an appropriate industrial policy and develop a European space programme, ESA’s member states have invested in the required infrastructure and knowledge base over decades. The excellence we have achieved means that Europe now enjoys autonomous access to space and the wide spectrum of space applications made possible by this joint endeavour.

Jointly, we have built Europe’s infrastructure in space transportation, telecommunications, navigation and Earth observation, to name only a few. In order to guarantee further safe use of space, safety has to be organised. As an intergovernmental organisation, the ESA does not operate in a vacuum.

The EU has become an important partner in implementing European space programmes, and it enjoys a productive relationship with a common goal in mind, allowing our Member States and our citizens to maximise the benefits of space while enhancing competitiveness, ensuring sustainability and the reliability of the sector.

"By pooling skills, expertise and knowledge from its twenty-two Member States, the ESA has improved the lives of citizens, strengthened the industry and provided European and national decision makers with the tools to realise large-scale policy programmes"

This is the cooperation that produced Copernicus and Galileo and the Global Satellite Navigation Service. This endeavour has been possible thanks to the drive of the EU and its Member States and the unique skills and competences of the ESA.

Along with Commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska, I signed the following joint EU-ESA statement in October 2016 stressing our common visions and goals for the European space sector: “Our common European ambition is that Europe remains a world class actor in space and a partner of choice on the international scene. By 2030, Europe should be able to fully benefit from its space solutions to implement its policies, to strengthen European values and security, improve knowledge and foster prosperity”.

We envisaged maximising the integration of space within European society and the economy. This would foster a globally-competitive European space sector and ensure European autonomy in space within a safe and secure environment. Space is increasingly a diverse and complex playing field. With an increasing number of spacefaring nations and private companies pursuing activities in space, we are adapting the transformation of the space sector driven by user needs.

Additionally, as global challenges such as climate change, migration and shortage of natural resources, increasingly shape the agenda and global policies, space is an increasingly indispensable tool for developing a common European approach to these issues. Looking back to the ESA’s formation in 1975 and seeing what we have now accomplished, it is clear the future is bright.

The ESA provides a unique framework for European cooperation in space together with the EU and other European stakeholders. We need to continue to focus on complementing each other and avoid the unnecessary duplication of capacities and infrastructures. We also need to ensure that our investments to date are safeguarded and further enhanced with appropriate public funding.

"In the Space 4.0 era, maximising the benefit for European citizens and economy is dependent upon smooth cooperation between agencies, governments, companies and pan-European organisations"

At the same time, we must develop new schemes that ensure that European companies have access to finance. In Europe, the ESA and the EIB have joined forces to raise awareness among investors of the potential of space as a driver for innovation and growth. They are identifying and assessing the potential to support actors in the space sector and exploring opportunities for improving access to finance.

We will continue to strive for a United Europe in Space. This means creating new synergies where needed and strengthening cooperation across nations, institutions and sectors. This means safeguarding the excellence European states have created within the ESA, while paving way for the decades ahead.

In the Space 4.0 era, maximising the benefit for European citizens and economy is dependent upon smooth cooperation between agencies, governments, companies and pan-European organisations.

Each has a distinct set of strengths, capacities, competences and infrastructures; Europe can only succeed if it determines how to connect these different components without losing any existing strengths. Fully grasping the opportunities of space lies beyond any single organisation alone. This is why we need a strong, coordinated, and United Europe in Space.

About the author

Johann-Dietrich Wörner is Director General of the European Space Agency (ESA)

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