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Shaping a new EU space policy

Photo: All rights reserved © Anton Balazh  -

While some may consider space to be a luxury that Europe cannot afford during a time of austerity, nothing could be further from the truth. Improving the safety and daily lives of European citizens thanks to radio navigation, guiding tractors by satellite for high-yield crops, optimising responses to humanitarian crisis. This is not science fiction but just a few examples of innovations related to space technologies developed today. Many thousands of highly skilled jobs rely on the sector, which is working to make people’s lives easier and safer, and European industry as a whole more competitive. To ensure continued success, the European Commission is developing an integrated space policy that will strengthen Europe’s space infrastructure.

Space is a strategically important sector for Europe. As well as being a source of skilled jobs for scientists, engineers and technicians, the space industry provides Europe with a technological cutting edge, vital in an increasingly competitive world. It also stimulates innovation and creates commercial opportunities for a range of other business sectors and hi-tech SMEs (see boxes).

This key role was recognised by the Lisbon Treaty, which gave the EU a legal grounding to develop policies that explore and exploit space. Space is a priority area for the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. In fact, space has been earmarked as one of 10 key actions under the strategy’s flagship initiative, ‘An integrated industrial policy for the globalisation era’.

Key objectives

This initiative states that the European Commission will propose measures in 2011 to implement the priorities of the space policy based on Article 189 of the EU Treaty. The Commission is also charged with developing, in close collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA) and Member States, a space industrial policy whose main objectives would be the steady, balanced development of the industrial base as a whole, including SMEs, greater competitiveness on the world stage, independence for strategic sub-sectors such as launching, which require special attention, and the development of the market for space products and services.

In April 2011, the European Commission released a Communication entitled ‘Towards a space strategy for the European Union that benefits its citizenspdf Choose translations of the previous link ’. It sets out priorities for the future EU space policy to enable it to meet important economic, societal and strategic challenges:

  • Pursue the achievement of the European satellite navigation programmes Galileo and EGNOS
  • Implement with Member States the European Earth Monitoring Programme (GMES) which is designed to monitor the land, ocean, atmosphere, air quality and climate change, as well as to aid in emergency response and security, with the objective of becoming fully operational from 2014. Galileo, EGNOS and GMES are the top priorities of European space policy.
  • Protect space infrastructures against space debris, solar radiation and asteroids by setting up a European Space Situation Awareness (SSA) system. It is estimated that collisions with debris cost Europe’s space industry about €330 million a year
  • Identify and support actions at EU level in the field of space exploration. The Union could notably explore options to work with the International Space Station (ISS), ensuring that all Member States participate in it
  • Pursue a space industrial policy developed in close collaboration with the European Space Agency and Member States
  • Support research and development to increase European technological non dependence and ensure that innovation in this field will be of benefit to non-space sectors and citizens. Communication satellites play a key role in this context
  • Strengthen the partnerships with EU Member States and the European Space Agency (ESA) and implement improved management schemes

To strengthen collaboration in space, the European Commission also plans to step up discussions with its partners in Russia and the USA, and will start talks with other space players like China.

Article 189 of the Lisbon Treaty enables the Union to define a European space programme. The Commission is looking into the possibility of presenting a proposal for such a programme in 2011. Taking responses to this communication into account, it will decide on its approach as part of its June proposal on the next multi-annual financial framework.

A thriving sector means big business

Europe’s space manufacturing industry has an annual turnover of €5.4 billion and employs a workforce of 31 000, most of whom are highly skilled.

The continent is also home to 11 major satellite manufacturers which together operate more than 150 communications satellites, employ 6 000 people and produce a combined turnover of about €6 billion. A further 30 000 people rely directly on the satellite business for their jobs. They work in ‘downstream’ businesses, such as ‘satnav’ providers, which exploit satellite-borne technologies.

The market for GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite Systems)-enabled applications and devices has certainly taken off in recent years, and is expected to achieve a worldwide annual turnover of €240 billion by the end of this decade. And although the earth observation market is less mature, the economic benefits of the Earth Observation Programme could reach up to €137 billion by 2030.

Helping the whole economy

Many industrial sectors benefit from space in terms of technology transfer and innovation. Engineers and designers exploit materials, such as alloys and fabrics, that were originally developed for use in space; farmers are harnessing satellite systems to help them produce high-yield crops; and electronics manufacturers now offer consumers a range of in-car navigation devices.

In fact, far from being remote and exotic, the space industry has the potential to touch the lives of every European. For example, where would the broadcasting and media industry be without satcom technology? Companies in this sector increasingly rely on space to deliver products to their customers, including television output and telephone and data connections.

Also, applications of satellite navigation are steadily increasing, not only for personal use in vehicles and mobile phones. For instance, utility networks in telecommunications or energy are increasingly relying on the precise time synchronisation provided by satellite navigation systems. In fact, knowledge of highly reliable and accurate position, velocity and time is central to many of our activities. This is so much so that it is calculated today that 6% to 7% of the GDP of Western countries depends on satellite radio navigation.


Space policy Unit,
Directorate-General for Enterprise and Industry

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