It seems the Commission’s ambition is - literally - out of this world. Last year, the Brussels executive launched the space strategy for Europe, hoping to find solutions to some of today’s most pressing challenges - climate change, stimulating innovation, security - among the stars of the non-Hollywood variety.
MEPs have been quick to praise the strategy, which aims to improve the EU’s flagship space programmes - Copernicus, Galileo and EGNOS.
Evelyne Gebhart, who is drafting the opinion report on the space strategy for Parliament’s internal market and consumer protection committee, explains that “Be it to use mobile phones or car navigation systems, to watch satellite TV or to withdraw money, space technology has become essential to European citizens.”
The German MEP, a Vice-President of the European Parliament, says she is “proud that European legislators have jumped at the chance of ensuring Europe’s autonomy in the field of space. Attaining an independent role in the space sector will enhance the EU’s position as a global actor.”
Gebhart believes the strategy “will prove to be of huge benefit for the consumer as well as for the overall economy. Space technology can support a variety of EU public policies. Space data is necessary to provide public services related to, for instance, safety and security. It is also a source of employment and growth. More concretely, the data that is collected by remote sensing systems has potential for reuse in processes that create an added value within the European single market.”
Still, she notes, “it is important to ensure that only authorised parties have access to the collected data.”
Jaromír Kohlicek, a Vice-Chair of Parliament’s industry, research and energy committee, agrees, saying, “there is a potential risk of these technologies being misused in the name of security and defence.”
Nevertheless, the GUE/NGL group deputy describes the space strategy as “a very ambitious step”.
In particular, the European Global Navigation Satellite Systems Agency “has huge potential for advancing European space exploration. This is why an important task is urgently addressing staffing policy and the adequacy of allocated resources.”
If these issues are resolved, says Kohlicek, the space strategy “can rapidly contribute to civil, non-military nature exploration and more sophisticated transport.”
Additionally, “a safe space environment needs good international cooperation, also with regards to space traffic and debris management. The space strategy must be peace-oriented and open to broad international cooperation - this approach can contribute to a better world in the future.”
Highlighting the space strategy’s wide-ranging potential, Ricardo Serrão Santos, who is drafting the fisheries committee’s opinion on the dossier, explains that it “provides important sets of tools that aim to respond to the needs of public marine and maritime policies, such as planning the adaption and the mitigation of climate change, fighting pollution and marine litter, protecting coastal zones and ecosystems, implementing maritime spatial planning and more.
“These would all benefit from a well-structured and operational space strategy. Ocean observation is a crucial tool, emphasised in the UN Sustainable Development Goals, in the IPCC special report on ‘Climate change, the oceans and cryosphere’ and in the G7 Tsukuba communiqué, to mention only a few. As well as observation, people expect forecasts to adapt and evade risks.”
The Portuguese MEP points out that, “The services rendered with the aid of space technologies are more and more present in our daily life. Galileo, EGNOS and Copernicus systems all contribute to our wellbeing and safety.”
Serrão Santos says, “Allowing public authorities to benefit from more permanent and more responsive space-based ocean surveillance capacities will allow them to respond more quickly and efficiently in numerous situations and manage natural risks more efficiently.”
He adds, “As far as fisheries management is concerned, there are already a number of available services. These services include the contribution to the control of fish stocks, the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, but also the monitoring of ship routes and the detection and surveillance of oil spills. A well-developed European space strategy will increase the operability of the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) and the European Fisheries Control Agency (EFCA).”