Flags ESA and EU

United Space in Europe, United Europe in Space

In these days the European Commission is finalizing the regulations for the next Multiannual Financial Framework.

This comes at a very important time for the EU, ESA, their respective Member States and the European space sector as a whole.


Space is a critical sector, enabling public policies and European engagement worldwide and creates new business opportunities. The capacity to use and access space is an indispensable element for Europe to tackle global challenges, such as climate change, technology revolutions, shifts in geopolitical power or humanitarian crises, and to support economic growth, safety and security, quality of life and sustainable development.

Europe is already a very important space power, thanks to constant public sector investments and the excellence of large system integrators, SMEs, research and technical centres as well as academia. We are talking about a Europe where EU is part of Europe, ESA is part of Europe, and our respective Member States are part of Europe.

However, in recent years many new actors worldwide, new space faring nations and private companies have entered the space sector, resulting in increased competition on the global scene. In order for Europe not to lose out to this fierce competition, we need a common response of all European space actors. No single organisation or institution in Europe can face the current challenges or fully grasp all emerging opportunities alone. We need a strong, coordinated, united European space sector where all these actors work together efficiently.

How can we define an efficient Space Policy for the European space sector and a coherent implementation framework to incarnate such policy? The first step is to avoid narrowing the analysis on just the EU space policy, or the ESA space policy, or the space policy of their respective Member States at national level. EU, ESA and their respective member states are part of Europe and Europe’s DNA commands to address the European space policy globally, seeking best synergies between the national, intergovernmental and supranational frameworks.

For 50 years, European states have joined forces through ESA to enable the development of the European space sector and its industry as it stands today. For 15 years, European states have joined forces in both the European Union and ESA to build Galileo and Copernicus, the fantastic successes that could not have been achieved without the commitment of the EU, European States, and the expertise of ESA.

In order to safeguard Europe’s excellence and maintain its place in the world, it is now time to consolidate its future.

It is important to recall that ESA is, I believe the only, international organisation that is mentioned in the Lisbon Treaty. In Article 189, the Treaty puts an obligation on the EU to establish “any appropriate relations” with ESA. It is therefore indispensable that a strategic, long-term strategic partnership between the EU and ESA is established which joins the political leadership of the EU with the technical leadership of ESA in the space domain.

Europe must ensure that the next EU MFF and ESA CM19 allow that the money of the European tax payer is spent efficiently, avoiding redundant programmes or infrastructures. Europe cannot afford that the next MFF and CM19 are uncoordinated and incoherent.

Therefore, let us think European, I mean really European. Astronauts always report that they do not see any national border in Europe. In that sense we should work for United Space in Europe and for the other way around, namely for United Europe in Space.

Hopefully we all agree that we better have coherence in what Europe is doing in space. This coherence is necessary for the benefit of our citizens, for our industry, for economic growth and for jobs.

The common objectives for space were jointly defined by EU and ESA in 2016:

  • maximise the integration of space into European society and economy
  • foster a globally competitive European space sector
  • ensure European autonomy in accessing and using space in a safe and secure environment

ESA as THE European Space Agency is acting together with partners in varies space domains such as:

  • Space Technology
  • Space Transportation
  • Operations
Earth observation
  • Navigation
  • Space Science and Exploration
  • Space Safety and Security

– and respective services

The third aspect is to look to existing and potential funding mechanisms: European Union, Intergovernmental, National, private investment and different modes of space programmes including mandatory as well as optional activities according to different national interests. Here the interest of states to keep or to develop national competences in space has to be taken into account.

Based on this the future structure of the public European Space sector can be derived. A structure which secures the different aspects and leads to a coherent and efficient solution, avoiding duplications but taking credit of existing expertise, infrastructure and competences:

a) Intergovernmental tasks with geo return principle, taking into account national interests in the development of industry, research entities and academia including mandatory and optional programmes

b) Tasks devoted especially to programmes financed by the European Union with respective associated rules

c) Tasks to exploit the results of a) and b) and provide downstream services to the public, to industry and different policy areas: One face space to the customer.

In the best case all three tasks can be realized by using the same infrastructure, competences and capabilities and include private investments wherever possible.

As far as the governance is concerned, specific decision rules for the different tasks have to be imposed and implemented.

In the past the cooperation of EU and ESA worked already very well for Galileo and Copernicus, a very sound basis. If we look to the world around us it is obvious that we need a brave decision…right now. It is time to go farther than just an evolution of existing entities. We need a clear decision for EUROPE. Europe, this is to say at least the EU, ESA and their respective Member States together, must join forces.

I already proposed to the ESA Member States to consolidate ESA as the space agency of its Member States and for the EU, in order for the EU to continue to fully rely on the heritage, expertise and infrastructure of ESA stemming from 50 years of investment. There is no need to develop a new Space Agency in parallel in Europe, the ramp-up of which would take decades and cost billions and would therefore in itself be a major risk to the programmes it manages. We need to streamline, not double administrative layers.

The existing activities have demonstrated the efficiency of close cooperation between EU and ESA, but I would very much prefer a discussion about an even more convincing way forward to secure Europe’s competitiveness in space. Europe’s future success in the space sector relies on the best use of the flexibility and synergies. Any future policy for space must strive at avoiding duplication of existing capacity and expertise and build the future of the space sector on the expertise of its public institutions, namely.

To go beyond the existing structures would just be a small step for us but a giant leap for Europe.

United Space in Europe…United Europe in Space.