This week the ESA Council agreed on the wording for the vacancy notice to find my successor. It reminded me of the moment 6 years ago when I read the VN and decided to apply. The space environment has changed drastically in the last 6 years with even more changes still to come. As the current  DG and as a person who really loves ESA and European space, I believe the selection of my successor should reflect this paradigm shift and target candidates able to lead ESA into an unknown future. When I applied in 2014, I was already 60 years old and not sure whether it was the right thing to apply because I was already well aware that younger spirits are generally best placed to drive change. Looking back, I certainly do not regret applying and am very happy to have had the opportunity to seek to maintain ESA’s place as a crucial actor in this rapidly changing environment. However, age and its influence on the daily readiness for change is not something that can ultimately be ignored. We are at the dawn of a new space age. There remains the predominant institutional question of the roles of ESA and its DG set against the European landscape (EU space regulation, national space activities), global competition and the need to be more agile, adaptable and flexible. That is why the way ESA is led with regard to the powers and responsibilities of the DG and management through to ESA bodies has to be evaluated and changed.

Other key aspects that have to be considered are:

  • diversity
  • digitalisation
  • commercialisation and privatisation
  • disruptive innovation and proactive risk-taking
  • SDGs and climate change
  • the Europe-wide supra-institutional downstream
  • modern workforce management, especially with “lessons learned” from the coronavirus crisis
  • The narrative of 4 programmatic pillars which was confirmed at Space19+, ESA’s last Council meeting at ministerial level, and especially the timely strengthening of Space Safety and Security, as a clear demonstration of an ESA assuming its responsibilities, needs to be taken still further and consolidated.

In the last weeks and months, I have frequently struggled with the fact that my time is coming to an end but, as a DG who loves ESA, institutional success is what counts most of all and I look forward to a dynamic young successor getting the full support of all Member States and the necessary space in which to work in the best interests of the Agency. ESA has to look back to the spirit of its Convention of 1975, which defined the tasks of ESA as a European endeavour beyond national, institutional or individual interests. I still have more than 12 months ahead of me in the best job in the world (in fact, it is so much more than a “job”) and am eager to press ahead with my ideas while at the same time preparing the ground for my successor, who hopefully will love ESA as much as I do.