EU needs 'competitive and independent' space policy

Franck Proust outlines why Europe needs 'a clear and practical policy' for the space industry.

By Franck Proust

30 Jan 2015

For many of us, space is synonymous with fiction. We hear more said about it in the cinema than we do in our daily lives. However, in Europe, space is no longer a myth - it is a reality, a firmly-established industry, and I would even go as far as to say, an industry just like any other.

Little is known about the space industry but we owe much of our modern way of life to it, both in terms of the present - communications, television, satellite vehicle navigation, meteorology, disaster prevention, mapping, and defence - and the future - scientific research and space tourism. The success of the space industry is one of the greatest achievements of European integration, bringing together virtually all space production and economic forces on the continent.

Since the entering into force of the Lisbon treaty, space has been included in the remit of the European Union, with the aim to "develop a European space policy". The outgoing commission implemented a number of highly innovative initiatives which have thus far not delivered what they were supposed to: creating a clear practical policy for the industry. No doubt we remain at the early stages, which is why I hope the new commission will be able to meet the two great challenges I consider to be the pillars of this new policy: competitiveness and independence.

"I hope the new commission will be able to meet the two great challenges I consider to be the pillars of this new policy: competitiveness and independence"

The space industry performs particularly strongly and it has already established itself in the private sector and in exports, which account for half its turnover. Comparatively, the US, Chinese and Russian industries are highly dependent on national contracts in the public sector, at over 80 per cent.

With just 34,000 employees or 10 times less than that of the US, we manage to do equally well technologically. It is estimated that six per cent of our gross domestic product depends on space technology. However, globally the European space industry is a small fish in a large pond, with a turnover equivalent to just 10 per cent of that of the aeronautical industry, and a total allocated European institutional budget six to seven times lower than that of the US, particularly in the field of research and development (R&D).

European policy needs to ensure the sector can overcome an imperious bureaucracy. There is a need for ongoing programmes, such as Copernicus, Galileo and Horizon 2020, in line with the requirements of the sector and with the challenges of tomorrow. Just like in the United States, or the space programmes of emerging countries, we think in terms of response measures. We need to reform governance so that space policy is thought of as a bridge linking countries together, rather than being confined to silos.

As is the case with defence or foreign affairs, the space industry is a tool for independence and even sovereignty. However, our industry remains overly dependent on expertise from abroad to master certain highly-advanced technology. How would our economy continue functioning if the United States were to block GPS?

Dependence is measured through our obligation to use technology we do not have and are forced to purchase. It is similarly evident in the low technological readiness of certain products. It is virtually impossible to market an untested product. These are critical issues for both our public policies and our trade balance.

Focusing on R&D and reforming our governance are the keys to success in a space industry. Europe becomes stronger when it dreams. We did it with Rosetta and Philae, so this year let’s resolve to pursue the momentum of the great space adventure. Let’s put stars in the eyes of Europeans!


Read the most recent articles written by Franck Proust - Space is not the final frontier