The EU has a key role to play in space, says Growth programme Director

February 27, 2002

Brussels, 26 February 2002

Knowledge, market exploitation and influence are the three reasons why the EU must now have a space policy, Jack Metthey, the recently appointed Director for the 'Competitive and sustainable growth: research actions for transport' directorate, has told CORDIS News.

To support the Commission's space activities, the space policy unit, headed by Luc Tytgat, was recently created. The unit will define an R&D (research and development) strategy and manage activities in the field of space policy and research.

'For these three sets of reasons [knowledge, market exploitation and influence], it would be very difficult for Europe not to be present in space, especially if you talk about the knowledge society. Space is a place where knowledge is important. You can't go to space if you don't have the knowledge, and by going into space you're going to acquire knowledge,' said Mr Metthey.

He also referred to the Gothenburg summit and the prioritisation of sustainable development as a reason for pursuing projects such as Envisat, which will facilitate Earth observation. Security, he says, is an 'emerging activity' for the Community and 'space is a place of power and influence and sovereignty, with a broad understanding of what this word means. It is also linked with the notion of security.' The importance of space for Europe's citizens is also key, as is bringing space closer to those who will ultimately benefit.

'Up until now, space has been approached from a technological viewpoint. But it's a costly exercise and so it's reasonable to be accountable vis-à-vis European citizens,' he said. To underline the importance of space for our everyday lives, Mr Metthey suggests imagining what it would mean if everything involving space was shut down for a day. This would mean no television, a loss of many telephone links and economically, a loss of billions of euro.

Mr Metthey, who will attend the launch of Envisat, Europe's advanced Earth observation satellite on 1 March, explained that, to strengthen this emerging space policy, the Commission is seeking to galvanise its relationship with the European space agency (ESA), enhance international cooperation in the area of space and bring space closer to the citizens.

The Research DG's space team is also seeking to develop links with colleagues in other services, looking to promote space as potential added value to their activities. The desire to get new players more involved in space research also extends to smaller companies, smaller countries and candidate countries. The Director welcomes ESA's achievements in bringing new actors into space and explains that by operating a quid pro quo philosophy, ESA's members subscribe to programmes, but expect their national industry to benefit in some way and know that they will get some form of return.

Over the years, each country has therefore managed to develop some activities relating to space, explained Mr Metthey, whether it be in hardware, the supply chain, services, informatics, electronics or ground equipment. He also has no doubt that the candidate countries will become more involved in space, and says that ESA is already negotiating with some of these countries.

The Commission is currently in negotiations with ESA, and recently asked the Council of Ministers for a negotiating mandate for the conclusion of a framework agreement between the two bodies. The Member States are expected to reach a decision at the Research Council on 11 March.

Mr Metthey believes that the joint operation of the Galileo project has shown that such an agreement is necessary. 'Galileo is part financed by ESA and part by the EC. Channelling these contributions to make a single entity, a single management, a single system has turned out to be a little difficult in terms of the decision making process because we have to follow parallel tracks which are not so well synchronised. [...] Since we have a number of initiatives in common which we would like to embark on, we want to make our lives easier,' said Mr Metthey. The Commission hopes that by formalising the relationship between ESA and the EU, the roles of customer and provider will be defined more clearly, enabling the user, the Commission, to define what it needs.

The Commission is also extending its cooperation in space to outside the EU, and has already reached an agreement with Russia, signed by Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin, ESA Director-General Antonio Rodotà and Yuri Koptev, the Director of the Russian space agency, RKA. Experts have already started to meet and are discussing concrete projects and Mr Metthey expects this to be followed by a visit to Russia by Mr Busquin and Mr Mitsos sometime during 2002.

Mr Metthey believes that the EU Member States are very supportive of the Commission's involvement in space. 'This is a very natural step to take. We all know that we see resources at our disposal which are far less than what can be invested in the United States. We need to do better with less than the competitors, so in other words, we need to be better organised. We need to have a real European space policy with economies of scale and better cost effectiveness.'

Mr Metthey will attend the launch of Envisat, an advanced polar orbiting Earth observation satellite which will provide measurements of the atmosphere, ocean, land, and ice over a five year period, which is planned to take place on 1 March. He believes Envisat to be a 'major breakthrough' in Earth observation, which will give Europe a prominent role. A number of EU funded projects will process and analyse information provided by the satellite, and in addition to these, Mr Metthey believes that 'hundreds of scientific applications are waiting impatiently to get this information.'

For further information on the EU's space activities, please consult the following web address: http://europa.eu.int/comm/space

CORDIS RTD-NEWS/© European Communities, 2001

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