RTD info logoMagazine on European Research

N 38 - July 2003

The path to self-sufficiency

It has been a long time since Europe claimed to be the centre of the world. Some even believe it has become old and set in its ways. In reality, it is very much on the move and in directions which are not always to the liking of its critics across the Atlantic. Its industrial projects in the aeronautics and space sector are one such example. For the countries which have teamed up to develop the Airbus A400M cargo plane and the Galileo radio navigation system, the aim is to make the most of their scientific and technical potential, develop their most efficient industries, and achieve autonomy from the US in sensitive fields such as military transport or satellite positioning. These efforts can only be applauded, even if one would like European research to pursue more motivating applications.

Galileo Galilei, one of the founding fathers of modern physics, is credited with having exclaimed 'But it moves' – referring to the Earth around the Sun – after having been forced to renounce his beliefs in the Copernican system. This is why there could be no more fitting name than his for the European system that over the coming years will offer an alternative to the Global Positioning System (GPS) to which the US Army holds the keys. With Galileo, representing both scientific progress and resistance to conservatism, is it not Europe that is holding its head high?

Of course, we have come a long way since the Inquisition and the reign of terror it imposed to protect its absolutist vision of heaven and earth. But blinkered thinking, the fight against 'the axis of evil', economic monopoly and military supremacy are still a part of our world. And while, in many countries, citizens are raising their voices to say that rather than this 'best of all worlds' they prefer a multipolar world in which dialogue and balance dominate within the institutions, it is for the scientific community – taking as their models such illustrious ancestors as Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler and Newton – to ensure that progress in knowledge goes hand-in-hand with progress in society.