The motivation behind GMES, a joint initiative of the European Commission and the European Space Agency (ESA), is the right one: to create a pan-European capacity for monitoring the globe by 2008, which coincides deliberately with the operational launch of the EU's Galileo system of navigation satellites.
|EU Enterprise and Industry Commissioner Günter Verheugen with EUROSPACE President Pascale Sourisse|
Such monitoring capacity can be used in endless ways for the benefit of both Europe and the international community: flood control analysis, early detection of drought and desertification, early warning of severe weather, prevention of illegal fishing, analysis of maritime and littoral pollution, crop analysis, monitoring of civil conflicts and, above all, the production of high-resolution maps in near real-time succession to support emergency operations such as humanitarian aid efforts. Thus, it offers both commercial and public policy applications.
One industry speaker after another at the EO Industry Summit, which took place during Earth & Space Week in Brussels, insisted that more than enough applications exist to justify moving ahead quickly on GMES.
Jean Dauphin, chairman of the space working group at the Brussels-based industry federation ASD-EUROPACE, which represents some 55 European companies, told the participants: "Concrete applications are already there and providing services. This is the thing to retain, to keep in mind, as the EU puts together its policy."
A number of national government officials shared that view. Bartolomeo Pernice, who works for ASI, Italy's Space Agency, said institutional preparations have reached a turning point in Europe. "We think Europe is in a position to put in place a real infrastructure for GMES," he commented.
A great deal of the technology needed to make GMES work already exists. The bigger problem is a political one.
Europe's lingering headache: fragmentation
Indeed, GMES' functional architecture exists, but it lacks a defined management structure and, ultimately, a budget. These elements have been slower to evolve than expected, due to involvement of so many actors, public and private.
Although on the private side Europe's space sector is clustered around several large industrial consortia, the public sector is fractured into many more national authorities, and several supranational organisations such as the ESA and EU branches. All these entities do not necessarily share the same political agendas regarding the use of space technology and the strategic information it can generate. And even when they do, the fact that political authority over space policy is scattered across so many countries naturally complicates the goals of common decision-making and the achievement of interoperability among all the national technical contributions that will go into GMES.
Industry says it wants clear decision-making about GMES, in particular the project's funding and what governments expect from the private sector. But there is a bit of a ‘chicken-and-egg’ dynamic here: Europe's governments also want industry to demonstrate more fully that the services and user-group demands are there to justify public financing for GMES.
EO a key priority
EU officials present at the summit said the new Commission under President José Manuel Barroso has reassessed and modified its policy priorities to reflect the importance now being assigned to GMES and Galileo. Heinz Zourek, deputy head of the Commission's Directorate-General (DG) for enterprise policy, drew participants' attention to the fact that responsibility for space policy has now shifted from the Commission's Research DG to DG Enterprise. "This is a sign that Europe's space aspirations have matured and require an industrial policy," explained Zourek, adding "we are about to set up a space policy unit with the ESA, and are now thinking about what this should deliver."
The EU official also encouraged industry to step forward with ideas regarding GMES' commercial applications, management structure and funding since his Directorate intends to draft the first elements of a space policy in June. This should lead to a full space policy document a year thereafter, he said.