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Institutional relations


The governance of space activities in Europe is based on the cooperation between three main institutional actors: the European Union, ESA and their respective Member States. Ensuring effective and efficient cooperation and coordination between the actors is essential in order to optimise the impacts of European policies and investments in space.

In its April 2011 Communication "Towards a space strategy for the EU that benefits its citizens български (bg) czech (cs) dansk (da) Deutsch (de) eesti (et) ελληνικά (el) español (es) Français (fr) Gaeilge (ga) hrvatski (hr) italiano (it) latviešu (lv) lietuvių (lt) magyar (hu) Malti (mt) Nederlands (nl) polski (pl) português (pt) română (ro) slovenčina (sk) slovenščina (sl) suomi (fi) svenska (sv) ", the European Commission underlined that the EU's increasing involvement in Europe's space policy goes hand in hand with increased interaction between the different protagonists in this area. The Union should therefore strengthen its cooperation with the Member States, examine its relations with ESA and ensure the best possible programme management.


On 14 November 2012 the European Commission issued a communication on "Establishing appropriate relations between the EU and the European Space Agency български (bg) czech (cs) dansk (da) Deutsch (de) eesti (et) ελληνικά (el) español (es) Français (fr) Gaeilge (ga) hrvatski (hr) italiano (it) latviešu (lv) lietuvių (lt) magyar (hu) Malti (mt) Nederlands (nl) polski (pl) português (pt) română (ro) slovenčina (sk) slovenščina (sl) suomi (fi) svenska (sv) ". The Communication stresses that the emergence of space as an EU policy, the growing importance of EU space programmes and the EU's reliance on ESA's technical expertise must translate into an evolution of the governance of space matters at European level. In that regard the communications calls for an evolution in the EU - ESA relations and "rapprochement" of ESA towards the EU.

EU-ESA relations

Relations between the EU and ESA are currently based on a Framework Agreement which entered into force in May 2004 and renewed until 2016. This agreement provides the legal framework for the increasing cooperation between the two organisations and sets up the instruments for this cooperation. It is aimed at providing a common basis and appropriate operational arrangements for efficient and mutually beneficial relations.

The Framework Agreement created the ministerial-level Space Council, a concomitant meeting of the Council of Ministers of the European Union and the ESA Council at Ministerial Level for the coordination and facilitation of cooperative activities between the EU and ESA. The EC-ESA Joint Secretariat that assists the Space Council meetings and implement its guidelines, and a high level space policy group that is an informal body of high-level representatives of the member countries of the EU and ESA that aims to reach a common understanding on issues related to the implementation of the Framework Agreement were also created.

The duties of the Space Council include:

  • providing orientations (or guidelines) to support the achievement of the objectives of the Framework Agreement and identifying actions required;
  • making recommendations, in particular related to the main elements of the specific arrangements;
  • advising on ways to enhance cooperation consistent with the principles set out in the Framework Agreement;
  • reviewing the effective and efficient functioning of the Framework Agreement.

To this end, the Space Council issues orientations and resolutions. Since its inception in 2004, eight Space Council meetings took place.


Strenghtening cooperation with Member States

The shared space competence conferred on the EU by the Treaty of Lisbon goes hand in hand with a reinforced partnership with the Member States in the form of policy dialogue and coordination. Such coordination is essential given that the EU competence does not prevent Member States from exercising their own.

A Council Working Party on Space and a space formation of the EU Competitiveness Council has been created as the first tangible expressions of that strengthened cooperation. This cooperation aims to foster consistency of political objectives and reinforce the synergy between the Union's space policy with other policies that use the EU's or the Member States' space resources (such as transport, environment, research and innovation).

In the same spirit of enhancing dialogue and cooperation with the Member States, the Commission has created a Space Policy Expert Group.

International cooperation


Space endeavours are rarely a matter for individual counties alone and in many cases can only be efficiently achieved by pooling technological and financial resources and capacities. For the EU international cooperation should serve as well as a market opener for promoting European technology and services in the space field, and thus helping strengthen this strategic industrial sector. This is particularly important for major space programmes of the EU such as Galileo, Copernicus and Space Research, whose international dimension is essential. International cooperation in space should also support the promotion of European values through space-based projects focused on environmental protection, climate change, sustainable development and humanitarian action.

Space dialogues

International collaboration of the EU in space takes two forms. First, specific agreements with third countries have been established to in the context of programmes such as Galileo, Copernicus or the Framework Programme for research and development. Second, there is a broader, non-binding collaboration in areas such as Earth observation, space exploration and the protection of space infrastructure. Both types of cooperation are covered by ‘space dialogues’ which are conducted by the Commission in the exercise of its powers, in collaboration with the European External Action Service (EEAS). ESA and EUMESAT are closely associated with these dialogues as well as EU agencies.

The EU’s main strategic international partners are existing space powers, including the United States and Russia, the People's Republic of China and emerging space powers like South Africa. The EU also assists with its expertise and infrastructure Africa, and in the medium- term Latin America.

United States

The space dialogue with the United States is the most comprehensive one and addresses all the space-related issues including those related to security and defence in a specific configuration. The dialogue has seen a number of concrete achievements, whether in the areas of satellite-based navigation and the interoperability between GPS and Galileo, Earth observation via EUMETSAT’s partnership and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), or more recently the decision allowing U.S. public bodies to participate in EU space research projects.


Both Russia and the EU attach strategic importance to space, and as such space is reflected as a priority in the Partnership for Modernisation (P4M) between the EU and Russia. The main topics in the EU-Russia space dialogue are the compatibility and interoperability between Galileo and GLONASS (Russian satellite navigation system) and Russia’s participation in EU space research projects, such as in the field of Earth observation. The EU-Russia space dialogue also build on the historic cooperation between ESA and ROSOCOMOS (Russian space agency), covering topics ranging from launchers and scientific missions to manned spaceflight.


China a newer actor in the space arena represents an important opportunity for the EU to engage on key issues related space, including space exploration, satellite navigation, Earth observation and space science and research. Although EU-China space dialogue was initiated, with participation of the European Space Agency only recently (August 2012), Chinese institutions have already been involved in a major project under the Fifth Framework Programme for research to identify the quality of air in Chinese cities. China is also an important market for European telecommunications satellites.

South Africa

South Africa completes the list of countries, with which the EU (together with ESA) conducts a space dialogue. South Africa is a host to the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope project, which will be one of the largest space installations on the world. The EU-South Africa space dialogue supports this endeavour, and addresses issues specific to South Africa, such as the extension of EGNOS to South Africa, the participation of South Africa in EU space research projects and collaboration between ESA and the recently established South African Space Agency (SANSA).


Africa is EU’s cooperation and development priority. Two European space programs have a specific African dimension: EGNOS in Africa and GMES & Africa. The former aims to deploy EGNOS navigation services in Africa while GMES & Africa aims to engage Africans in the use of Earth observation services for their own needs. Other priorities in discussions with Africa include the creation of an African space agency and the establishment of research centres in space (Pan-African University).

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