Europe assesses options for international cooperation in space

June 5, 2003

Brussels, 04 Jun 2003

While cross border cooperation is being increasingly recognised as beneficial in all areas of scientific endeavour, there is one area where, at least in Europe, international cooperation is considered as essential. The area is space.

Collaboration, by its very nature, means that certain rules must be adhered to. But as Jan Kolár, President of the Czech board for space activities, explained at the final space Green Paper consultation event, which took place in Prague, Czech Republic, on 2 and 3 June, such compromises are tolerated because collaboration is the key to success.

'Cooperation means a relationship. This immediately implies that cooperation means a loss of freedom. So why cooperate? Because we want to get something; either knowledge, a product or a service,' said Mr Kolár. 'The conditions are worthwhile because we cannot achieve 'it' on our own, or if we can, the costs will be higher.'

Another convincing argument in support of cooperation was given by Jostein Rønnenberg from the Norwegian space agency. He highlighted the imbalance that can occur when countries of different sizes work together, but stressed that both small and large countries are dependent upon others in the field of space. 'Cooperation means both give and take. Big countries need to appreciate this for cooperation to work. None of the European countries are big enough to go it alone, and should therefore realise that in the end, when it comes to space, we are all small countries,' concluded Mr Rønnenberg.

The workshop addressed both cooperation within Europe and cooperation between Europe and third countries. All participants agreed that cooperation is important for strategic reasons. Kai-Uwe Schrogl, from the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) and the international relations committee of the European Space Agency (ESA), claimed that international cooperation is of strategic importance as it boosts competences and can lead to the resolution of international issues, especially in sustainable development. He insisted however, that the 'real' question concerns with whom Europe should cooperate. Mr Schrogl described Europe's current status in space as in the 'midfield' along with Russia, Japan, China and India, while the US occupies the dominant position. He proposed that Europe should decide whether to maintain its traditional partnership with the US or whether it should join with others from the midfield. Maybe both are possible, he suggested. Europe has to decide what it wants and wait to see what the other players will seek, said Mr Schrogl.

For its part, Russia expressed a strong interest in cooperation with Europe. Sergei Kulik, head of the international division of the Russian space agency described how his country was following the EU's Green Paper consultation process very closely. He claimed that Europe and Russia share many common interests, and stressed Russia's willingness to enter into negotiations on satellite navigation in the context of the modernisation of GLONASS, the Russian satellite positioning system.

Representing Ukraine, the Deputy Director General of the country's national space agency, Eduard Kuznietsov, also expressed an interest in cooperating with Europe, proposing a joint venture in the form of an incubator for space technology. He implied that the willingness to cooperate has sometimes seemed one-sided: 'Ukraine has demonstrated its openness to international cooperation. Many times we have knocked on the door. We have a few joint projects, but taking into account our potential, this is certainly not enough.'

Many participants highlighted the desirability of international cooperation for addressing environmental challenges, which are, after all, global. Mr Rønnenberg highlighted Norway's interest in satellite technology for environmental monitoring. While Norway is roughly the size of Germany, it has a population of only 4.5 million responsible for a marine environment six times the size of Norway's land area. Having the resources of a small country, Norway must seek partners to address sustainable development within its territory.

The desire to effectively address sustainable development has been a catalyst for cooperation in other regions. Driss El Hadani, Director of Morocco's royal centre for space remote sensing declared that cooperation with the EU had helped Morocco develop ideas with regard to sustainable development. In turn, Morocco is now seeking to make its knowledge available to other partners, particularly in the Mediterranean region. 'We want to create the dynamic of cooperation and exchange,' he said. He also expressed a desire for moves towards long term cooperation with the EU. 'We are not being pretentious. We can contribute. We want to move from a user to a partnership relationship,' he said.

The workshop not only addressed the question of whether Europe should cooperate with others, but also how this could be achieved. Karlheinz Kreuzberg, Director of the ESA joint task force, claimed that space activities are important for four distinct reasons: strategic political rationale, culture, economics, and scientific research. He claimed that each of these areas require a different approach when entering into international cooperation.

Belgian astronaut Frank De Winne suggested that human spaceflight could be a catalyst for further international cooperation. He highlighted 15 years of successful cooperation in human spaceflight and claimed that 'humans that fly together can explain what it's really like to cooperate.' He also emphasised that if Europe really wishes to cooperate with others, it must become a strong partner. 'A good partner is a strong partner,' he said.

The series of consultation events, each one addressing a different aspect of the European Commission's Green Paper on space has now come to an end. Stakeholders will have a final chance to contribute to the drafting of the ensuing White Paper when the consultation conclusions are presented in Paris on 23 and 24 June.

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CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities

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