Towards a United Space in Europe

The ESA is committed to building a United Space in Europe, in full cooperation with the Commission, writes Johann-Dietrich Wörner.

The ESA is committed to building a United Space in Europe | Photo credit: Press Association

By Johann-Dietrich Wörner

19 Jan 2018

The world is changing in a way that is quickly and massively reshaping the global context, making it more complex and challenging. Humanity faces global challenges on a daily basis - climate change, migration, food shortage, conflict and catastrophes, shortage of resources on a broader scale and mobility, to name a few. 

For decades now, European Space Agency (ESA) programmes and activities, particularly through applications and technologies, provide tools supporting most of the world’s societal needs, be they linked to energy, water, food, health, communications and many more.

The ESA was established in 1975 to elaborate and implement a long-term European space policy and activities and programmes in the space field; coordinate the European space programme and national programmes; and elaborate and implement the industrial policy appropriate to its programme.


The convention on which the ESA is based still stands today, and is behind the Agency’s undisputed competence, long-lasting experience and proven track record of success in elaborating, managing and implementing various types of space programmes. 

For years, the ESA’s work has extended across all space domains and activities, ranging from space applications, developments, exploration and science, to aspects like outreach, technology transfer and industrial policy. 

It has a unique technical and managerial expertise in human capital and laboratories, testing facilities, launch facilities, and a global infrastructure for space operations, which allows it to define and implement large and technically challenging space projects for its member states and also for other so-called third-party entities. 

When adopting the Lisbon treaty, the EU member states agreed to further stimulate space activities. 

This position was confirmed when the European Commission published its Communication on a space strategy for Europe in October 2016, together with the ESA-EU joint statement. With the guiding vision of a strengthened European identity, spirit and cohesion, the goals of space activities in Europe are defined in the joint EU-ESA statement.

First, we aim to maximise the integration of space into European society and economy. 

Second, we want to foster a globally competitive European space sector. 

And, we want to ensure European autonomy in accessing and using space in a safe and secure environment. I have been supported by ESA ministers, who met in Luzern in December 2016, in pursuing these goals through my vision of ‘Space 4.0 for a United Space in Europe’.

Building the United Space in Europe means establishing or reinforcing partnerships with all European stakeholders in the space sector. ESA member states, the EU, private and (inter-) governmental entities and organisations, research and academia are natural partners of the Agency, and the connection with them has to be reinforced in the context of Space 4.0 evolution.

Since ESA has the expertise of end-to-end management and implementation of space activities including system design, development, procurement and operations, it is able to propose space programmes and to fulfil the expectations of different ‘customers/partners’, namely ESA member states, the EU, EUMETSAT and other third parties.

ESA and EU member states have repeatedly requested an improvement of the cooperation between the respective organisations, in order to ensure the most efficient implementation of EU space programmes and activities by the ESA. In response, both the ESA and the European Commission have committed to taking steps towards realising the ESA-EU “shared vision and goals for the future of Europe in space”. 

In addition, in its space strategy for Europe, the Commission stated its intention to “examine potential improvements in governance and simplification measures, for example through a single financial framework partnership agreement with ESA, which would streamline the applicable rules and reinforce transparency and accountability requirements”.

Therefore, we initiated discussions with the Commission on a detailed scheme for the implementation of EU funded space programmes and activities under the next EU MFF post-2020. My current work focuses on “ensuring the ESA’s ability to efficiently implement EU-funded space programmes and activities” for the benefit of Europe.

Beyond the need to improve the coordination and complementarity of EU and ESA space programmes, we need clearly defined, complementary roles attributed according to the respective skills and competences of the ESA and Commission, avoiding unnecessary duplications at any level so as to efficiently implement EU funded programmes, sustain, and further develop the European space sector and strengthen its position in a very competitive world market.


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