EU space strategy: What next?

The EU now has a space strategy, but what matters now is turning ambition into outcomes, says Monika Hohlmeier.

Monika Hohlmeier | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

By Monika Hohlmeier

27 Jan 2017

In times of crisis across the EU, it has often been asked why there is an urgent need for a space strategy.

The answer is simple: Space is about our daily lives and has many concrete applications. About seven percent of our GDP relies on satellite navigation, and space applications are an important tool in tackling the challenges we currently face. 

Europe is performing well in space, but this strategic sector is rapidly evolving and transforming worldwide. In the US, the ambitious involvement of Silicon Valley tycoons in space business, better known under the umbrella term 'Newspace', or emerging space countries like India and above all China, increasingly challenge Europe's positions on space markets.


In this context of enhanced global competition, the adoption of revised common and reliable EU space policy guidelines was an important move forward to ensure thriving perspectives for the European space sector.

The strategy is a turning point. Now it is clear that space is no longer a niche policy. This strategy should also help drive a space policy with a strategic focus on sovereignty and independence considerations, as all space powers do, rather than on a commercial dimension exclusively.

Flagship EU programmes Galileo, Copernicus and EGNOS have already demonstrated what is reachable on a European level. Taking advantage of the interoperability with GPS, Galileo initial services, launched in December 2016, allows a much higher precision than already existing systems although only 18 of the 30 satellites that are in orbit.

But now is also the time to look beyond Galileo and Copernicus, and focus on the framework conditions to stimulate the economic potential of space and create new highly skilled jobs in this sector, especially for SMEs, but for start-ups too. 

The strategy, with its four pillars, is a good starting point to boost the industry's competitiveness and to strengthen Europe's autonomous access to space, but now that is has been published, it is time to deliver.

In this respect, 2017 will be a cornerstone. We will see if the Commission sticks to this high level of ambition when it presents its proposal for a new multiannual financial framework (MFF). 

In particular, a solid and effective funding programme in space research has to be ensured by the EU after the current MFF, since this is a pivotal instrument to promote the European industrial leadership in space long-term. 

Let's not forget that compared to other global players in space, space-related European public expenditure is still relatively small. Europe only spends 0.06 per cent of its GDP on space, compared to 0.2 per cent in the US and 4.47 per cent in Russia. 

Investing in space technology is indeed costly, but it is necessary to guarantee an autonomous access to space and foster entrepreneurship, as well as new business opportunities. 

Therefore, it remains absolutely essential that more coordination efforts are undertaken to clarify the needs of the sector and ensure maximum effectiveness of public as well as private investments in space technologies.

The implementation phase of the strategy is now key to making sure that these ambitions turn to concrete outcomes and strengthen the competitiveness of our space sector. We have to bundle all forces to respond to the dynamics on the global space market. The European Commission will have the full political support of the Parliament and its sky and space intergroup.


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