When discussing the pros and cons of the European Union, the Erasmus Programme, the CAP, and the Single Market are often highlighted as symbols of successful EU integration and policies. However, these are not the only success stories; frequently overlooked, EU space policy and the European space industry play a vital role in the EU and its economy.
The sector has been fostering innovation, reinforcing economic growth, and - as demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic - its technologies can be fundamental for implementing public policies and controlling the outbreak through monitoring and tracking services.
The impact of the pandemic on Europe’s finances has been catastrophic. The discussion on the Recovery and Resilience Facility and the delays in adopting the MFF could have a dramatic impact on the space sector if an agreement is not reached soon.
“A strong statement by the Commission, indicating the EU Space Policy as one of its top strategic priorities for the future of the EU, could go a long way to creating welcome momentum for the industry”
Further delays in approving the MFF would affect the expected timing for adopting the new Space Regulation, with a direct impact on the continuity of services. As with the Regulation for Copernicus and Galileo, the components of the space programme should not be time-limited and should not have any expiry date, as this would undermine the programme from an operational point of view.
An ambitious budget is key to the success of the EU space programme. This year’s negotiations will likely result in increased funding for space compared to the previous MFF. However, substantial fund allocations will only provide a longlasting positive impact when there is clear and stable governance.
The effective functioning of the sector depends on the precise separation of roles and tasks between the various players involved. The governance of the European space sector has to rely on sound cooperation between the European institutions and the GSA and EUSPA agencies, as well as international organisations with longstanding experience in the field, such as the ESA.
Cooperation can only be truly effective when a clear separation of powers and tasks is ensured. Recognising, and actively promoting the potential of the downstream sector has to be considered as a key priority for the space sector. Therefore, the new Space Regulation will have a strong focus on this subject.
The role of European institutions is to promote open participation for start-ups, new entrants, SMEs and other economic operators, in both the upstream and downstream markets. The same approach should apply throughout the supply chain and in the application and services sector.
The downstream sector is of utmost importance for the EU, as European companies using space technologies have proven to be fundamental in implementing key public policies, such as in the transport sector, for climate change monitoring, crisis management, development aid, agriculture, maritime security and surveillance - all to the benefit of European businesses and citizens.
For instance, geospatial and positioning data are proving to be useful tools to control the COVID-19 outbreak. The space sector is also fundamental for promoting EU strategic autonomy and nurturing the competitiveness of European industry. Europe should continue to invest in research and innovation, as it is only in this way that it will be possible to develop new European technologies and preserve Europe’s competitiveness, sustainability, autonomy and leadership in this strategic sector.
This is particularly important for the traditional space powers, as the competitiveness of the sector is increasingly challenged by new players; disruptive industrial organisations and business models frequently supported by national institutional entities. The Parliament is closely cooperating with the Commission, as well as with the other European institutions.
“Recognising and actively promoting the potential of the downstream sector has to be considered as a key priority for the space sector”
In particular, new initiatives such as CASSINI (Competitive Space Startups for INnovatIon), which aims to support innovation and start-ups in the sector, are always appreciated and their importance widely recognised. Currently, however, there is no coherent European strategy to boost the space downstream sector, and it is urgent and necessary to address this issue, perhaps by creating a working and steering group, involving representatives of the institutions and of industry in order to define a roadmap.
The European Commission could also play a role in promoting and marketing the EU Space Policy, to raise public awareness of the importance and the role played by the space sector in citizens’ everyday life. A strong statement by the Commission, indicating the EU Space Policy as one of its top strategic priorities for the future of the EU, could go a long way to creating welcome momentum for the industry.
Fostering innovation, underpinning economic growth, boosting enterprises’ competitiveness, and enabling European strategic autonomy, the EU Space Programme and the space sector must be recognised as vital for the EU’s prosperity. It is now time for European institutions to treat the European space sector as a top priority, to ensure a brighter future for its citizens.