Europe's Future in Space

The Lisbon Treaty and the New Role of the European Union

bridges vol. 27, October 2010 / Letter from Brussels

By Christian Eisner

{enclose Vol.27_Eisner.mp3}

Christian Eisner

Developing a European Cooperation in Space

The idea of establishing a common space policy in Europe dates back to the early 1960s. Developed from various initial cooperation models, from the early 1980s the European Space Agency (ESA) was the main actor in European space activities. Currently comprising 18 Member States and several cooperating partners, ESA made Europe a global actor in the field of space technologies. Notwithstanding a multiplicity of national programs, ESA is able to undertake activities beyond the capability of a single European country by coordinating the financial and technological resources of its members. This cooperation has even resulted in a global leadership in specific fields such as commercial satellite launching, impressively showing the overall benefits of bundling capabilities.

By the beginning of the 21st century, as a consequence of the Information Society's rapid growth, space-based applications had become essential for everyday life. So the European Community (driven in particular by the European Commission) set to work on developing a comprehensive European Space Policy . It was clear that a new level of cooperation was needed, since the skills and expertise developed within ESA were indispensable. Therefore, in 2004, a Framework Agreement was established between the European Community and ESA. On this basis several meetings were held by the "Space Council" - concomitant meetings of the Council of the European Union and of the ESA Ministerial Council.

Present Achievements

Needless to say, the Space Council's work was initially focused on setting targets and on roles and responsibilities of the EU, ESA, and the Member States. Then, in May 2007, the Space Council put forth a Resolution on the development of a European Space Policy (ESP). For the first time, a common political framework was created for space activities in Europe.  Not only did the Council underline the importance of Europe's flagship programs being underway - the European Navigation Satellite Systems (EGNOS/GALILEO) and the European Earth Observation Program (GMES) - it also invited the European Commission and ESA to establish a process of regular monitoring and priority setting through an implementation plan for the ESP. In September 2008, the Space Council reaffirmed the need to rapidly implement GALILEO and GMES as the first two pillars of a user-oriented ESP, and identified as further priorities: Climate Change, the Contribution to the new Lisbon Strategy ("Europe 2020"), and Security and Space Exploration. Finally in May 2009, as Europe faced economic crisis, the 6th Space Council was dedicated to the contribution of space to innovation and competitiveness.

{access view=guest}Access to the full article is free, but requires you to register. Registration is simple and quick – all we need is your name and a valid e-mail address. We appreciate your interest in bridges.{/access} {access view=!guest} Recent Developments

The Lisbon Treaty, taking effect in December 2009, led to a modified political environment for implementing Europe's ambitions in space: Without prejudice to the exercise of competences through Member States, "the Union shall draw up a European space policy". The new legal basis, however, is not to be understood solely as a competence but also as a broad mandate: The Union is therewith appointed to establish the ESP by setting up a European Space Program. The overall aim is "to promote scientific and technical progress, industrial competitiveness and the implementation of its policies". This is truly a milestone! Up to this point, competences had been limited basically to developing, implementing, and funding the specific programs GALILEO and GMES. Alongside these, the EU contributed to the strategic policy developed (together with ESA) under the Framework Agreement, mainly by supporting policies and research funding. The new competence on space, however, empowers the Union to develop and implement a European Space Policy and a European Space Program, consequently requiring a fair budgetary basis.

In September 2010 the European Council officially added "Space" to the task list of the respective formation of the "Competitiveness" Council.  Furthermore, a "Working Party on Space" was established in order to adequately prepare the Council's meetings. This new Group will start its work on the Commission's proposal on a Space Strategy for the EU, which will be presented in due time. But the Lisbon Treaty affects not only the Council's work.  The European Parliament represents a new, important actor within the Union. The Parliament had not been directly involved in the strategic development of the ESP so far; however, it had expressed its great interest several times. Moreover, the Parliament appeared to be an important driver for the European flagship initiatives GALILEO and GMES. In the future its crucial role in space-related matters will be further strengthened, in particular when it comes to budgetary needs.

Yet, with regard to the increased number of players involved in shaping the future European Space Policy (the Council of the EU, the European Commission, the European Parliament, ESA, the respective Member States and their national programs, further stakeholders like EUMETSAT), one might wonder how all these different interests and policies can be merged into a single, consolidated strategy. So establishing well-defined governance and a clear division of roles and responsibilities will be of crucial importance. One particular consideration will be whether the role of ESA as an implementing agency for the EU in delivering the flagship applications GALILEO and GMES can be applied to other projects and future initiatives.

Given this situation, the upcoming 7th Space Council in November 2010 (prepared by a Ministerial Conference on Space Exploration in October) will duly pay attention to these questions. Based on the awareness that space is a key element for strategic independence, the partners involved will be invited to further develop an overall space strategy. The Council will focus on the sustainable exploitation of GALILEO and GMES, the benefits of space assets for monitoring Climate Change, and security issues. Furthermore the Resolution will invite the partners to deepen international cooperation, especially with Africa, and to develop a vision for a space exploration strategy. Finally the Council is expected to deliver some initial thoughts on the future governance of space activities in Europe.


Bringing together 29 European Member States of EU and ESA , the Space Council proved to be a suitable environment for preparing a common space policy, involving the major European actors. However, despite the achievements in developing the ESP, this framework - in legal terms - suffers from its "informal" character and the complex, parallel procedures between the EU and ESA. The EU, on the other hand, concentrated its programmatic efforts merely on the development of the two huge flagship initiatives GALILEO and GMES. The Global Navigation Satellite System GALILEO, nearly doomed to failure in 2007, is on its way with ongoing public procurement of the system's components; the Regulation on the European Earth Monitoring Program (GMES) was recently adopted, paving the way for its initial operations.

As a consequence of the Lisbon Treaty, Europe faces a new political dimension of space. Apart from strategic deliberations, a well-balanced governance is needed, involving the key actors of the European Space Policy, notably the EU, ESA, and their respective Member States. Of course the results of the negotiations on the next Financial Framework for the period from 2014 to 2020 will limit the scope of the Union's ambitions in space. Regardless, Europe will continue its present policy of making space applications meet public policy objectives and user needs. With regard to the Strategy "Europe 2020," it will be ensured that investment in space continues to deliver benefits to the citizens of Europe and of the world.


The author, Christian Eisner, has been working since 2009 as attaché for transport, innovation and technology in Brussels. His field of responsibility covers research & technology, satellite navigation and space as well as shipping and inland navigation issues.


1. Canada, participating in ESA programs under a Cooperation Agreement, also has a seat in the ESA Council and takes part in the meetings of the "Space Council."