After the success of the International Astronautical Congress, Naples is ready to welcome the ESA Ministerial Council next 20-21 November.
Ministers in charge of Space activities of the 20 ESA Member States and Canada will meet in Mostra d’Oltremare, Naples, to set the agenda for space; formulating objectives and priorities for Europe not only for the next few years, but for decades to come.
There are several extremely relevant issues on the table, which could have a strong and fundamental impact on the future of European space activities. New launcher developments to guarantee Europe’s independent access to Space but also Europe’s contribution to the International Space Station as well as its role in human Space flight are high on the “to do list”. The key priority is to create an effective modus operandi regarding the future relationship between ESA and the EU which is necessary to formulate and implement an effective European Space Policy. It is no coincidence that the Council will also host, as an observer, the representation of those European countries and organizations such as Eumetsat, the European Science Foundation, the European Defense Agency, the European Maritime Safety Agency that have not yet obtained membership.
The Lisbon Treaty attributed specific competences to the EU in the domain of space. Art. 189 enables the EU to draw up a European Space Policy, and to establish “appropriate relations” with ESA [i]. However, the terms of their relationship are subject of heated discussions. ESA is an independent intergovernmental organization, characterized by different membership and guiding principles, especially regarding industrial policy and funding cycles. However, in a context of economic crisis and austerity measures which affect ESA member states contributions, the architecture of their relationship, their respective roles and competences, could be reviewed. Consequently, the future of Space activities in Europe seems to be at stake.
For 50 years, thanks mainly to its geographical return mechanism (a principle of industrial policy under which the money invested returns to the country through contracts attributed to its industries), ESA played a fundamental role in the conceptualizing of an European Space Industrial base, boosting Europe’s research and development activities as well as commercial competitiveness.
In a time when “budgetary and fiscal discipline” are buzzwords, the notion of space as an inspiration, final frontier or dream of humanity seems to be pushed aside, at least temporarily. It is rather presented as an investment multiplier, not only able to initiate scientific advances in scientific endeavours but also to drive economic growth [ii].
Last July at the Farnborough Air Show, ESA Director General Jean Jacques Dordain announced the will to take a “new direction towards growth and competitiveness” [iii]. Space innovation, growth and job creation have become the central issues, as ESA seems to adopt “EU wording”. On the homepage of the special ESA Ministerial Council website a video wonders: “Is Space a good investment for Europe?” For some member states the answer is already clear: The UK already announced that it will increase its budget allowance for ESA by an average of 30% [iv].
The UK’s past investment in ESA generated an economic return of six to one in the case of the Artes program [v]. Poland’s accession will also bring additional contributions starting from January.
The impact of ESA on the European industry cannot be denied. It is thanks to years of successful international cooperation and industrial exchange that Europe has become less dependent, more sovereign and more competitive. If recession means accurate spending, the Ministerial Council will have to prove that Space is a more than a “void hub” for valuable investment. After all, the future of the European Space industry is at stake.
[ii] More info at: http://www.esa.int/SPECIALS/Ministerial_Council_2012/
[iii] ASI, “ESA Ministerial Council: The Meeting in Naples on November 20 and 21”, http://www.asi.it/en/events/conferences/esa_ministerial_council_the_meeting_in_naples_on_november_20_and_21
[iv] P. Ghosh, “Space Spending to be Increased by £60m a Year”, BBC News, Science & Environment, 9 November 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-20250533
[v] Artes stands for “Advanced Research in Telecommunication Systems. J. Amos, “Space ticks the boxes for UK plc”, BBC News, Science & Environment, 9 November 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-20264027
Photo credit: ESA – A. Le Floc’h