In May last year, and for the first time in eight years, the Competitiveness Council held a joint meeting with European Space Agency (ESA) member states. The aim of this meeting was to create a “joint space council” - an annual ministerial meeting on space policy.
On that occasion, it was reiterated that space policy is crucial for the EU and the ESA, and that coordination between these two organisations must be strengthened.
Since then, the new Von der Leyen Commission has set up a directorate dedicated to space and defence policy within the broader Directorate-General for the Internal Market, entrusted to French Commissioner Thierry Breton.
Both events took place just after the conclusion of negotiations over the new Space Programme and are signs of the EU’s growing interest in space policy. For those less familiar with the EU’s space programme, it can be summed up as an initiative under the next multiannual financial framework (MFF) for the period 2021-2027.
Even though the EU’s space industry is already one of the most competitive in the world, the emergence of new players and the development of new technologies are revolutionising traditional industrial models.
The Space Programme aims to maintain EU leadership in this domain and to encourage competitiveness among Europe’s space sector-related industries, in particular, small and medium-sized enterprises, start-ups and innovative businesses, and ensure investment continuity in EU space activities.
It will also exploit the growing opportunities that the space sector can offer to improve our security, including making the most of synergies between the civil and defence sectors.
The negotiations were successfully concluded before the end of the last mandate, when Parliament and the Council managed to find an agreement on simplifying space governance and strengthening the EU Agency for the Space Programme (EUSPA).
"Today, it is clear that space is becoming an increasingly accessible market for private individuals"
The agreement also improves the allocation of responsibilities, including of downstream markets; safeguards GovSatCom; bolsters the EU’s space diplomacy and promotes EU technology and industry. However, despite the conclusion of these negotiations, a key element is still on the table: the budget.
We are entering a crucial phase of the budget negotiations, where we must determine how to finance the main European programs for the next seven years (2021-2027).
The proposal from the Finnish Presidency back in December was to reduce the €16bn budget, initially put forward by the European Commission, by 10.5 percent, despite Parliament’s calls to increase it by €900m.
For the Parliament, this is an unacceptable reduction, because it will undermine the existing programs (Copernicus and Galileo), and it could also prevent the launch of new programs such as GovSatCom and Space Surveillance & Tracking (SST).
In response to the Finnish negotiating box, Parliament made it clear that the proposed €16bn budget for the next seven years will be crucial if we want the EU to remain a world leader in this field, and it will help us play a key role in international cooperation and serve as an essential building block for the EU’s strategic autonomy.
In order to understand the importance of the space sector, we first need to understand what the space economy is and the opportunities for industry that it creates.
"At European level, the space sector has created 230,000 jobs, ranging from manufacturing to space operations, and is valued at €46-54 billion"
According to Commissioner Breton, “The space industry is absolutely essential. Europe is the second-largest continent in the world in terms of space, and it will remain so. This is essential for our autonomy and for our independence.”
When we refer to the ‘space industry’, this is an umbrella term for private initiatives that are not part of government programs. Today, it is clear that space is becoming an increasingly accessible market for private individuals.
At European level, the space sector has created 230,000 jobs, ranging from manufacturing to space operations, and is valued at €46-54bn, according to the latest Commission statistics.
The EU’s space sector also stands to benefit from the recent agreement reached at the ESA Ministerial Conference on the allocation for the next three to five years. This is a considerable boost for the space industry and it will allow us to guarantee independent access to space.
As for the commercial activities based on the use of data provided by space infrastructure, such applications make space more accessible, both to the EU, SMEs and EU citizens. This is an area that the Commission and EU agencies should focus on more.
Especially in light of Galileo reaching the milestone of one billion users worldwide, last year. The new Space Programme might not yet allow us to reach the moon, but it will be the key tool for the EU economy in the coming years.