The European Union : a key player in Space

By Paul Weissenberg

Adviser for Outer Space Affairs to the EU’s External Action service, AAE member

Lecture given on 2 July 2019 in Brussels

The European Union has become a Key factor in Space, a key factor to do what?
More of the same? Or slightly different?
What is the added value to doing more space at the level of the EU?

First, the EU has 520 million people.

  • It is no.3 as political and economic entity in the world.
  • You cannot dissociate space from your political ambitions and trends.
  • There is a political tide running. The EU is becoming more and more a global player.
  • And space is an indispensable tool.

Second: Space is a service before being a technology. Fancy space projects are often looking for a user.

  • The user must pull the service.
  • Space is becoming closer to people on Earth.
  • Agriculture, climate change, security, environment.
  • So, space is an enabler. It was the Leitmotiv of the last space council here in Brussels some weeks ago.

Third: Is space a vector of European integration?

  • The legal answer is yes.
  • We have an Article 189 in the Lisbon treaty inviting us to go European in space.
  • Beyond legal considerations is there not a “proud to be European” effect when talking about Galileo?
  • A European infrastructure belonging to the EU.
  • The first EU capability.

And finally, Nr 4:

  • There is the New space discussion.
  • Some call it new space revolution or disruptive space.
  • In any case there are significant changes.
  • Accelerating speed, new technologies, new agile players, pressure on prices, new business models, new financing models (crowd in private capital).
  • Space is becoming part of a modern puzzle and is not a stand-alone subject.
  • Here the EU can offer something. It has more tools, more chips in the basket.
  • It has the political clout to embed space in a wider political environment.
  • The new space regulation, the so-called EU space programme, tries to give an answer to all these challenges.
  • Politics, legislation and money go hand in hand.
  • Member States and the European Parliament have chosen the recipient of the contribution.
  • They opted for a significant increase within the EU budget.
  • An all-inclusive political approach.

When talking about the new space programme I must be careful.
This piece of legislation as many others has been politically agreed between Council and Parliament before the last European election. The text needs to be formally adopted by the end of the year. There is an obvious link to the next MFF which still needs to be agreed.

The new EU space programme confirms and increases the role of the EU in space.

  • It is one single piece of legislation.
  • Doing away with the legal mosaic so far.
  • It is the convergence under one single legal roof with a reinforced focus on users.
  • One cross cutting budget tbc.
  • Reallocation is possible within the overall financial envelope.

Spending is concentrated on Galileo/EGNOS and Copernicus.

A few words on these 2 flagships.

  • EGNOS is fully operational. 300 airports in Europe use EGNOS.
  • Galileo has 26 satellites in constellation, 700 million users.

If you want to know if your smartphone is Galileo enabled, click on: UseGalileo.EU

So, Galileo is not only working.
It is actually considered as the best global navigation system worldwide with a higher precision than GPS.

We have 5 services:

  • This multipackage service makes Galileo unique as a civil system contrary to the US, Russia and China.
  • Next to Galileo we have Copernicus,

A user driven programme, fully operational with 6 thematic areas:

  • LAND

The space infrastructure behind carries the beautiful name Sentinels.

The regulation mentions other topics such as SSA, GovSatCom, security for all components done by the new EUSPA, European Space Programme Agency, and access to space.


  • Member states spend enormous amounts of money for a European launcher but some of them prefer to launch with non-European launchers as well.
  • No European preference although even German industry is in favour.
  • Space X gets 100 million for Falcon 9 launch from US government.
  • But offers the same launch for 50 million outside US.

The underlying message of the new space programme is:

  • Spending more but spending it better and better together.
  • The so-called governance issues.

Let me finish with some reflections on that topic.

Europe needs to streamline and to simplify.

We have more than 20 national space agencies.

  • ESA
  • EC
  • GSA becoming EUSPA
  • Eumetsat

We need a more Intelligent division of labour.
The challenge is global.
European navel gazing, “nombrilisme”, must come to an end.

Are our funding rules efficient?
Is geographic return still an appropriate model in areas of global competition? Ask industry.

Is our industrial landscape fit for the task? Ask industry.

ESA is a world class R and D space agency. Like NASA.
It should concentrate on upstream activities.

  • Downstream services should be left to the operational entities closer to the user.

Operations need to be outsourced once they have reached the mature status.
Successful examples include Eutelsat, Eumetsat, GSA.

GSA becomes EUSPA: the technical arm of the EU for the operational space components. EUSPA today already successfully manages EGNOS and Galileo. Synergies with Copernicus are obvious and should be used and placed within EUSPA.
EUSPA should become the security hub for all EU space programmes as proposed by the new space programme.

The COM should focus on political supervision and control. Technical expertise and day to day management should be outsourced to ESA for upstream and EUSPA for operational and downstream activities.

The new regulation is the result of lessons learnt.

  • Paves the way for the next 7 years.
  • Comes at the right moment.
  • Growing political momentum.
  • We have to seize it.
  • As Europeans.


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