Should Europe be reaching for the stars or bringing space back down to Earth?

March 10, 2003

Brussels, 07 Mar 2003

What is today's driving force behind research in the field of space? Is it still the inspiring images of humans in space, or is it the more practical applications of space research here on Earth? Both explanations were supported at a conference to launch the consultation process on the Commission's Green Paper on space policy on 6 March.

Speaking to CORDIS News, Frank de Winne, who became the second Belgian astronaut to go into space in October 2002, said that human spaceflight is still inspiring.

'We shouldn't forget that we're humans. We want to look further than our current horizon, exploration is part of our European heritage, our culture,' said Mr de Winne.

Conversely, in his presentation to the conference, the former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt argued that we should 'bring space down to Earth'.

'I'm not certain that we're still in a period where man in space leads to excitement on the street. It has become part of life and is taken for granted,' said Mr Bildt. 'The solid support that is needed comes more from what happens down here - the applications and implementations - than was the case 30 years ago when we were reaching for the stars.'

Both Mr de Winne and Mr Bildt agreed that a European space policy is needed, and that the first priority is to obtain the necessary political will. They also both argued that once the political will is there, the funding would follow.

Mr de Winne believes that a priority should be European participation in the next exploration programme: 'It is really important that Europe plays a role in future exploration programmes and we should therefore take steps right now, in terms of technology and policy.'

Mr Bildt called for the space policy to be set at the highest level - by the European Council. 'In Europe we should set a space policy in the context of other polices, for example environment policy. In order to do that, we need to do it at the top,' he said. He also called on the EU presidencies to provide the political impetus for a space policy.

Both participants expressed their belief that a European space policy would serve Europe in a range of different fields. Mr de Winne added that the results of such a policy would give Europeans something to be proud of: 'We as Europeans need to look to something that we did as Europeans,' he said, giving the example of human spaceflight.

Speaking in more practical terms, Mr Bildt said that a policy would help to solve some of Europe's problems, such as the delays in the Galileo project. 'Galileo is a mess and should be described as such,' he said.

Both Mr de Winne and Mr Bildt see strong roles for the European Commission and the European Space Agency (ESA), both in informing the general public about developments in space, and in drawing up a European Space policy.

Addressing institutional issues, Mr Bildt outlined four obstacles, which he called 'archaeological remnants', the 'battle of the three towers', 'more means than ends' and the 'hidden mismatch over funds'.

'Archaeological remnants' refers the different foundations of the European Commission and ESA, which could impede agreement on a new relationship between the two entities. 'The different foundations of the Commission and ESA both have long history. We have to be aware of it - it can sometimes make life more interesting than it would be otherwise,' said Mr Bildt.

The 'battle of the three towers' addresses the fact that space issues are currently evident in each of the three pillars that make up the EU, without either one of them claiming full responsibility for space policy.

The fact that there are lots of institutions in Europe working on lots of programmes in different areas while there are few concrete aims leads Mr Bildt to conclude that Europe has 'more means than ends', while the lack of discussion over funding and ambitions leads to his argument that there is a 'hidden mismatch over funds'. 'It is hidden because it is not sufficiently addressed. Either we are going to do these things and need to raise the money, or we're not going to do these things and need to lower ambitions,' stated Mr Bildt.

For further information on the green paper and future consultation events, please visit:
http://europa.eu.int/comm/space/index_en .html

CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities

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