Paris, 01 Apr 2004
ESA is an independent European agency and does not form part of the European Union (EU). Some countries that belong to the EU are not members of ESA and vice versa. There are, however, close ties between the two organisations and they are linked by a common aim: to strengthen Europe and benefit its citizens.
Although ESA has had ties with the EU since the EU was formed, these have grown in recent years because of the increasing role that importance of space in strengthening Europe's political and economic role. The necessity of ensuring Europe's guaranteed access to space is becoming ever more apparent as satellites are used to improve communications and navigation, monitor the environment, strengthen technology and increase scientific knowledge.
ESA has set up a liaison office in Brussels, the site of the EU's headquarters, to facilitate relations between the two organisations. Recent joint initiatives include Galileo, a European global navigation satellite system and the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security suite of services, known as GMES. An upcoming initiative concerns satellite-bsed measures to overcome the digital divide within Europe.
Towards a Space Agency for the European Union
Discussions on the relationship between ESA and the EU now form a regular feature of ESA Council meetings at Ministerial level. In March 2000 ESA's then Director General, Antonio Rodotà, commissioned a report on the evolution of ESA. This report, known as the 'Wise Men' recommendations, examined the future needs of Europe in space and the scenarios for the relationship between ESA and the EU.
European strategy for space Later that year, on 16 November, the Councils of ESA and the EU met separately to adopt resolutions based on this document. These endorsed the setting up of a cooperative structure to bring together the ESA Executive and the European Commission. As a result, a high-level joint task force was set up to make proposals for the continuing development and implementation of the European Strategy for Space.
Green Paper on European Space Policy
In January 2003 European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin introduced the Green Paper on European Space Policy, prepared in cooperation with ESA. The Green Paper looks into Europe's assets and weakness in the space sector in order to launch a debate on Europe's space policy with all players, including national and international organisations, the European space industry and its users, and Europe's scientific community and citizens. Its objective is to increase awareness of the strategic importance of space and space policy for Europe and its citizens, to define areas of consensus and to find concrete answers to questions concerning access to space, funding and institutional arrangements. Seminars, workshops and hearings were held throughout Europe at the beginning of 2003 to foster debate and ensure contributions from all of Europe.
ESA/European Commission Framework Agreement
In November 2003 the ESA Council adopted the Framework Agreement, previously endorsed by the EU Council in October 2003. Its origins date from an ESA Ministerial Council meeting in November 2001 that gave clear directions on the Agency's evolution and policy, and called for a Framework Agreement to formalise cooperation between ESA and the EU.
This Agreement marks a milestone in ESA/EU relations. It recognises that both parties have specific complementary and mutually reinforcing strengths, and commits them to working together to avoid duplication of effort. The Agreement has two main aims:
- the establishment of a common basis and appropriate practical arrangements for efficient and mutually beneficial cooperation between ESA and the EU
- the progressive development of a European space policy to link the demand for services and applications in support of EU policies with the supply, through ESA, of the space systems and infrastructure needed to meet that demand
White Paper on Space
The EC adopted this action plan for implementing an enlarged European space policy, in November 2003. Drafted together with ESA, the White Paper includes proposals for joint ESA-EC space activities and takes the Framework Agreement as its basis for implementation.
These recent agreements prepare the legal basis for cooperation between ESA and the EU, such as EU participation in ESA optional programmes and ESA management of EU space-related activities. ESA and the EC will now be able to launch and fund joint projects, participate in each other's schemes, create common management bodies, carry out joint studies, and jointly organise conferences and the training of scientists.
Future cooperation is expected to cover areas such as science and technology, Earth observation, navigation, communications, human spaceflight and launchers.
For Europe these agreements will bring substantial benefits. ESA-EC could support the guaranteed access to space, with all the benefits that brings, and encourage the increasing use of space to support European policies that improve the lives of its citizens.
Last update: 31 March 2004