The European Commission (EC), seeking to assert more control over European space policy, regulation and governance, has published a proposal for a regulation establishing the EU space program and the EU Agency for the Space Program.
EU Space Program
This column has often made the case that the space industry has the potential to stimulate prosperity, encourage economic growth and catalyze innovation. With more than a third of the world’s satellites manufactured in Europe and an industry estimated at 53 to 62 billion euros, the EU recognizes this potential and now seeks to “remain a global leader in the space domain.”
As it notes in the explanatory memorandum to the regulation, this move builds on previous actions taken by the EC, notably the 2014 Space Strategy for Europe which set out four strategic goals: (i) maximizing the benefits of space for society; (ii) fostering a competitive and innovative sector; (iii) reinforcing Europe’s strategic autonomy; and (iv) security.
The Regulation aims to support the competitiveness and innovation capacity of the European sector. To do this, the commission proposes to increase its current space budget from 11.1 billion to 16 billion euros between 2021 and 2027. This would be prioritized as follows:
- satellite navigation: 9.7 billion euros will be allocated to the further development and ongoing maintenance of the Galileo and EGNOS programs;
- Earth observation: 5.8 billion euros will be earmarked for the EU’s Earth observation program, Copernicus; and
- secure communications: 500 million euros will be invested to support satellite communications through the GOVSATCOM initiative.
European Autonomy in Space: the EU Agency for the Space Program
The concept of European “autonomy” and independence is one of the main objectives of the regulation and the strategy of the European Commission:
- “autonomous access to space is a prerequisite to ensure the independence of action of the Union, an essential element in security for a leading role on the international scene;”
- "essential that the Union retains autonomous, safe, and efficient access to space, taking into account the strategic nature of space programs, including technology and critical infrastructure, public security and security of the Union or its Member States;" and
- “one of the main objectives is to ensure the strategic autonomy of the EU’s space policy.”
In furtherance of this strategy, one of the most notable developments of the regulation is the establishment and autonomy of the EU Agency for the Space Program. The agency would replace the current European Global Navigation Satellite Systems Agency (GSA). By repealing several of the current regulations underpinning programs such as Galileo, EGNOS, Copernicus and the framework for Space Surveillance and Tracking Support (SST), the regulation proposes to effectively bring all of these programs into the control of a single body.
Interactions with the European Space Agency (ESA)
ESA is an international intergovernmental organization and is completely independent of the EU. The Regulation notes the “unmatched experience” of ESA and the major programs on which ESA and the EU collaborate, in particular Galileo.
ESA’s Director General Jan Wörner has often called for a “United Space in Europe.” In doing so he has noted "the importance of a strategic partnership with the EU, one which joins the political leadership of the EU with the technical leadership of ESA.”
Yet, the establishment of this new agency does raise a question of governance of space activities in Europe, especially considering that ESA has its own space program, a separate legal foundation and certain non-EU members (Norway and Switzerland) and cooperating states such as Canada. It has an entirely different industrial policy, based on “geographical return” in which the investment by a member state in an ESA program is returned to that member state through industry contracts.
The Position of the U.K.
This development comes amid negotiation as to the future relationship between the EU and the United Kingdom. In 2018, the U.K. will invest 334.8 million euros in ESA, making it the fourth largest contributing member state. The U.K. has also spent 1.4 billion euros on the EU’s Galileo program since its inception. The future of the United Kingdom’s participation in Galileo post-Brexit has not yet been determined.
The regulation is, at this stage, only a proposal by the European Commission, albeit an ambitious one with potentially large implications for space governance, regulation and policy-making in Europe.
The EU’s member states, currently including the United Kingdom, will now determine its contents, scope and implementation. VS