30.4.2004   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 112/9


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘the White Paper — Space: a new European frontier for an expanding Union. An action plan for implementing the European Space policy’

(COM(2003) 673 final)

(2004/C 112/03)

On 12 November 2003, the European Commission decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 262 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the White Paper — Space: a new European frontier for an expanding Union. An action plan for implementing the European Space policy.

The Section for the Single Market, Production and Consumption, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 10 March 2004. The rapporteur was Mr Buffetaut.

At its 407th plenary session of 31 March and 1 April 2004 (meeting of 31 March), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 97 votes to none with two abstentions:

1.   Introduction

1.1

The White Paper submitted to the EESC is a logical follow-up to the Green Paper on European Space Policy, on which the Committee adopted an opinion in June 2003.

1.2

On that occasion the Committee essentially asked the question: does Europe have a strong political and ongoing commitment to the space sector, together with the necessary financial resources and an adequate institutional architecture?

1.3

The Committee concluded that: ‘Europe's position in the space sector will depend on the strength of its political commitment and the clarity of its budget decisions. The introduction of a shared and/or parallel competence for the space sector in the future European constitutional treaty would provide the European Union with the political, legislative and financial means to define and implement a strong space policy, which will have to, inter alia:

guarantee autonomous access to space for Europe;

contribute to Europe's strategic autonomy;

develop a programme of scientific excellence;

promote applications benefiting EU citizens and sectoral policies;

coordinate a dual research programme in space technologies in order to ensure our independence in civil, commercial, security and defence activities’.

1.4

It is in the light of this clear position that the Committee should assess the White Paper which has been referred to it for an opinion.

2.   Gist of the document

2.1

The Commission sets out the dangers facing Europe in the space sector:

decline in its capacities as key space player, if its growth does not keep pace with the global evolution of the space sector;

decline of its leading space companies because of weak commercial markets and lack of public investment in new programmes.

2.2

Against this background and noting that ‘standing still is not an option’, the Commission proposes a series of initiatives to prevent the weakening of Europe's position in the space sector.

2.3

The document is organised into the following sections:

policy challenges;

space initiatives to support key EU policies;

challenges to be met in order to secure and build upon Europe's scientific and technological capabilities in the space field;

issues relating to governance and resources.

2.4

In each section, the challenges are identified and proposals made for responding to them.

a)   Policy challenges

The Commission stresses that space is a horizontal policy which is especially relevant for supporting Europe's economic prospects, including the Lisbon objectives, agriculture policy goals, levels of employment, its management of the environment and its foreign and security policies.

b)   Support for key EU policies

A number of major initiatives are listed, together with recommended actions. These initiatives cover the following areas: implementation of the GALILEO programme and Global Monitoring for the Environment and Security (GMES); bridging the digital divide; the contribution of space to European security and defence policy; and developing international partnerships,

c)   Maintaining scientific and technological capabilities

This refers to the elements which are essential if Europe is to remain a space power: guaranteed independent access to space; optimisation and coordination of R&D resources; human space flight and space exploration; a suitably large and rejuvenated scientific population; strengthening Europe's position in space science; promoting an innovative and competitive European space industry.

d)   Governance and resources

The aim is to better identify and share tasks and responsibilities between the European Union, ESA, Member States, national agencies and industry in order to maximise efficiency and harness the benefits of space activities for Europe and its citizens. But this will only be possible if extra resources are made available for the space sector.

2.5

The conclusion of the White Paper is that Europe must progressively increase its space budget as part of a long-term vision aimed at creating more effective European space policies and more opportunities for a revitalised space industry to expand Europe's share of the market in space-based services.

2.6

In the resources assessment in Annex 2, the Commission presents three scenarios for increased expenditure on space, corresponding to three degrees of political will.

3.   General comments

3.1

The White Paper is, above all, a policy document the primary objective of which is to define a space policy for Europe. In this respect, it represents an important step forward in a field where Europe has been very active and scored major successes, but without ever having really made a coherent expression of political will. In addition, the White Paper outlines areas for specific action in the main sectors, where mastery of space-based resources involves strategic, economic and industrial challenges. The way that the document is structured according to the various challenges to be met is interesting in that it highlights the scale and urgency of the commitments that need to be made if Europe wishes to retain its position as a major space power, its scientific and technological strength, its community of scientists and engineers, its cutting-edge industry and a competitive market presence.

3.2

The initiatives, measures and proposals put forward by the Commission seem to be consistent with the ideas aired in the consultations on the Green Paper. As such, the White Paper represents a solid platform for the implementation of a European space project that is embedded in a political vision of the future. But clearly the crucial factor here is the real political and financial will of the Member States and the Union to support and develop an independent European space sector.

3.3

Finally, with the failure of the Intergovernmental Conference a problem has arisen regarding a solid legal basis for the European Union in the space field in that Article 13(3) of the Treaty will remain unchanged until the draft treaty establishing a constitution for Europe has been ratified. The European Economic and Social Committee therefore recommends that the framework agreement signed between ESA and the Commission be used to the full in a pro-active way because action in the space field cannot wait for the ratification of the future treaty at some indefinite point in time. The adverse repercussions that this would have for Europe's strategic autonomy, space industry and its partners, and research teams and capacities could open up an unbridgeable gap between Europe and its competitors in this field.

3.3.1

In fact, Member States have reached unanimous agreement on providing the EU with shared competence in space policy, an agreement which no-one has called into question.

3.3.2

Consequently, the EESC stresses the need to consider ways and means of supporting this clearly stated political will, pending the creation of a solid legal basis.

Firstly, the ESA-EU Space Council provided for in the framework agreement between the Commission and ESA must be set up immediately. Secondly, consideration could be given to appointing a high official for Space (along the lines of the high official for the CFSP), or to including space policy in the portfolio of the President of the European Commission, without ruling out the possibility of creating the post of Commissioner for Space in the future. All three options imply a strong endorsement of the importance of space policy.

4.   Specific comments

4.1   Space contributions to policy challenges

4.1.1

Space technologies are a tool for fundamental research, on account of both the complexity of the technologies applied and the fields of research involved, which include not only astrophysics and planetology but also seismology, oceanography, meteorology, epidemiology, etc. The EESC regrets that the White Paper does not make specific mention of their key role and hopes that this aspect will be given some kind of legitimacy by European space policy, even if ESA's mandatory programme responds to this need mainly as regards the sciences of the universe.

4.1.2

Moreover, it must be emphasised that in the field of observation and knowledge of the planet there is close interdependence between operational activities (such as those conducted by Eumetsat) and pure research.

4.1.3

Finally, it is essential to stress the duality of space technology at the research and development stage; the difference between civil and military usage emerges mainly during the practical application of research findings. Upstream research and development activity should therefore bring together all civil and military stakeholders in a concerted effort to optimise the use of facilities and reduce costs.

4.2   Space actions in support of the enlarged Union

4.2.1   Navigation

The EESC fully endorses the idea that the GALILEO programme is the symbol of the European Union's recognition of the political, strategic and economic challenges of space. It believes that everything must be done to bring this project, which is essential for Europe's autonomy and independence, to a successful conclusion.

4.2.2   Global monitoring for the environment and security (GMES)

4.2.2.1

Priority must be given to the interoperability of space systems as they can have different origins.

4.2.2.2

The EESC feels that two specific aspects are not given enough emphasis and are not sufficiently understood:

no provision is made for the continuity of orbital observation in some fields, particularly radar observation;

and in particular, the existence of European operational activity in the field of meteorology, climatology and oceanography is largely ignored. Significantly, Eumetsat is only mentioned as one of the ‘stakeholders’ and the fact that certain space activities are organised at European level seems to have been forgotten or ignored.

4.2.2.3

The EESC considers this to be a shortcoming of the document as EU space policy must be built on what already exists, not by duplicating what the space agencies do but by complementing their activities and structuring demand.

4.2.2.4

The Committee therefore recommends that the Commission adopt a constructive attitude towards Eumetsat, which is a key European partner, along the lines of that adopted with regard to ESA. Equally, the Committee believes that better use should be made of the Madrid-based Torrejón satellite centre for gathering satellite information by creating a true space database, along the lines of that under development in the United States.

4.3   Bridging the ‘digital divide’

4.3.1

The EESC feels that this section is regrettably weak, in terms of both form and content. It stands in stark contrast to the rest of the document. It is surprising – to say the least – to note that, in the box entitled ‘The Way Forward’, satellite communications are only mentioned in passing in parentheses when it is asserted that full use should be made of the potential offered by all available broadband technologies to bridge the digital divide.

4.3.2

The Committee fears that, as far as this issue is concerned, the text is based on a number of misinterpretations or misjudgements.

4.3.3

In the first place, the concept of technological neutrality cannot mean that all technologies are equivalent as regards solving a given problem. Clearly, choices have to be made on the basis of a cost-benefit analysis along the lines of that drawn up by the Commission (working document SEC(2003) 895). It is important in this context that use of the Structural Funds is not at variance with these principles and that local authorities have a clear idea of the complementarity of terrestrial and space systems in terms of geographic data and population density

4.3.4

While there can no be question of promoting space-based solutions to the detriment of more effective terrestrial solutions, there can be no denying that the former are particularly appropriate for regions with a low population density or which are geographically remote or access to which is difficult. Space-based solutions and terrestrial solutions are complementary and offer different areas of excellence.

4.3.5

What the text overlooks is the fact that the role of space-based solutions in resolving the problem of the ‘digital divide’ must derive from the intrinsic complementarity of terrestrial and space-based solutions.

4.3.6

The crucial factor for the development of space-based solutions is equal access to the advantages of broadband telecommunications regardless of where an activity is located.

4.3.7

To be specific, today in many countries 80 % of the population but only 20 % of the territory is covered or in the process of being covered by terrestrial solutions. This situation can only change for the better by exploiting the complementarity of space and terrestrial technologies.

4.3.8

The sheer size of the urban market favours terrestrial solutions and the importance of terrestrial operators can only accentuate the imbalance between urban and rural regions. This raises the following question: is it acceptable that the information society is evolving in a direction which favours urban concentration at the expense of rural depopulation? Clearly, this cannot be the socio-political choice of the European Union or of Member States.

4.3.9

In stating that the market is characterised by ‘intense competition between operators and technologies’, the White Paper confuses two very different elements: commercial competition between operators and the balance between technologies, which ultimately depends on their respective qualities.

4.3.10

Therefore the EESC feels that the European institutions should make a more accurate assessment of the specific role of space-based solutions so as not to lose the initiative in this key area of space policy. Consequently, it would be useful to promote pilot operations based on joint initiatives between ESA and the Commission in order to demonstrate the cost-benefit advantages of satellite-based solutions in comparison with the investment that would be necessary to bring about equivalent fixed network solutions in areas where there is no coverage. Similarly, the pooling of public contracts should be encouraged so as to enable satellite-based solutions with Europe-wide coverage to benefit from economies of scale, leading to lower costs, both in terms of terminals and service provision. This would also help pave the way for the emergence of a European standard, enabling the various companies involved to establish a global presence.

4.3.11

The role of space policy is not to promote space policy at any price but to see to it that space-based solutions are not overlooked to the detriment of the interests of certain users and certain regions and the people who live in them.

4.4   Space as a contribution to the CFSP and the ESDP, the development of international partnerships, strategic independence and common assets for common actions

4.4.1

The EESC does not have any major comments to make on these sections but it would strongly emphasise that, insofar as space is considered by our main partners to be an important power issue (in 2004, NASA Administrator, Sean O'Keefe, will present a new road map which, significantly, deals with the subject of renewed US space domination), international cooperation must be based on an approach which realistically reflects European interests.

4.4.2

The Committee would therefore reiterate that, insofar as free access to space is essential for Europe's autonomy and it cannot be achieved through a commercial approach, public funds must be allocated to maintaining freedom of access, which is of major strategic importance.

4.4.3

As concerns the ESDP, the Committee recalls that the presidency report on European Security and Defence Policy, approved by the Thessaloniki European Council of 19 and 20 June 2003, recognised the importance of space applications and activities in this area. Here the Committee would highlight the dual nature of space sciences and technologies, which is not sufficiently exploited in Europe.

4.4.4

As regards space flights, careful attention needs to be paid to a possible revision of US space policy in this area.

4.4.5

The EESC considers it desirable to maintain this type of activity for reasons which have to do with both humankind's deeply rooted desire for adventure and discovery and the need for symbols that can stimulate and maintain public interest. Consequently, realistic programmes should be devised which respond intelligently to European interests but which at the same time are based on global cooperation.

4.4.6

In this context, the idea of a lunar station certainly needs to be given serious consideration, with the greatest regard for Europe's interests.

4.5   Strengthen European excellence in space science

4.5.1

The Committee would recall that ESA, national agencies, scientific institutes and industry have succeeded in elevating Europe to a level of scientific excellence which is recognised worldwide. Moreover, as the Commission points out, this has been done subject to strict budget constraints that have required efficiency and competitiveness, which deserves to be applauded.

4.5.2

This is all the more reason to support the White Paper proposal to progressively increase ESA and Member State funding for space research, not only to promote research as such but also to avoid the break-up of our research capacities and to offer attractive career opportunities to young scientists; otherwise there is a real risk that the ‘brain drain’ will accelerate, particularly to the United States.

4.5.3

The Committee considers that just as much emphasis should be put on the earth sciences in space research as on the sciences of the universe. What sets the earth sciences apart from the sciences of the universe is the fact that they are intrinsically bound up with practical applications (meteorology, surveillance, environmental management, etc.). A distinction therefore needs to be drawn between these two branches of science, without favouring one at the expense of the other.

4.6   Establish a new approach to the governance of space activities

4.6.1

At this stage, the White Paper can only provide some pointers to the way forward, including how to organise space responsibilities within the Commission.

4.6.2

Despite the failure of the Intergovernmental Conference, no-one has called into question the agreement to provide the European Union with shared competence in the space field. However, the absence of a clearly established legal base for EU action in the space sector will inevitably give rise to a certain caution.

4.6.3

Nevertheless, as regards internal organisation within the Commission, it seems to the Committee that there are two pitfalls that must be avoided:

on the one hand, spreading space responsibilities too widely would prevent the Commission from working and acting in a coherent fashion;

on the other hand, excessive centralisation would sever policy from the various directorates involved and be to the detriment of demand-driven policy.

4.6.4

The EESC believes that a single, dedicated body of modest size, attached to a high level of the Commission, for the example the presidency, would offer an appropriate response.

4.6.5

Of course, the Commission will have to have resources of its own, augmenting those which Member States devote to ESA and national agencies. If there is a genuine desire to develop EU space activity, the ‘game’ cannot be played without staking some money.

4.7   Annex 2: resources assessment

4.7.1

The White Paper presents three scenarios:

scenario A is the ‘ambitious’ scenario, which would require a firm political commitment anda high level of economic growth, allowing a sustained budgetary effort;

scenario B is the ‘political’ scenario, denoting a readiness for a new departure for space inthe European Union;

scenario C is the ‘linear’ scenario, which would not guarantee full independence as regardstechnology and access to space.

4.7.2

Space activity is of major strategic importance for the European Union. Its scientific, technological, economic and human implications are considerable. It is therefore an integral part of the Lisbon strategy and there is a need to ensure that the means are made available for achieving the stated objectives in this area. Under these circumstances, it is clear that the EESC can only reject the possibility of scenario C. It regards scenario B as the minimum working hypothesis, whilst hoping that it will be possible to move closer to scenario A.

4.7.2.1

In fact, some wonder whether it might not be possible, in the light of the requirements of the Stability Pact, to insulate strategic investment spending, such as that on space, from budgetary considerations so that the future is not compromised by budgetary restrictions, which all too often are targeted at investment spending rather than current expenditure.

4.7.3

It is equally clear that nothing should be put in the way of enhanced cooperation in the space sector, although it has to be recognised that the Nice Treaty provides little scope for such cooperation.

5.   Conclusions

5.1

The European Economic and Social Committee considers the White Paper to be a high-quality document which has the great merit of being an expression of political will which is formulated in a strong and coherent manner.

5.2

Nevertheless, the Committee deplores the weakness of the section on the ‘digital divide’ and broadband technologies. It therefore urges the Commission to review and expand this section by considering the complementarity between space-based and terrestrial solutions.

5.3

The Committee would again stress the key strategic importance of space activities for the European Union. It calls for the Union's policy approach, particularly as regards international cooperation, to be underpinned by a realistic vision that is free of all trace of naivety, especially in view of the dual nature (civil/military) of the technologies which space activities are based on.

5.4

The Committee emphasises that the space sector, which has been restructured and taken the necessary steps to improve competitiveness in order to be able to compete internationally, employs directly some 30,000 people, many of them highly skilled, and that it is essential to maintain and enrich this vast human potential, which is the source of European excellence in this field. In particular, it would point out that greater attention should be paid to training, both initial and continuing, in a sector based on high technologies which are evolving along with progress in scientific research.

5.5

Despite the failure of the Intergovernmental Conference, the Committee recommends that the European Union, building on the framework agreement between the Commission and ESA, press ahead resolutely with its efforts to shape and stimulate demand and with space initiatives, without duplicating the programmes of Member States, their national agencies or ESA and without standing in the way of enhanced cooperation or strong partnerships between certain Member States. The Committee recommends the incorporation of space policy within the remit of a high-level EU body or official.

5.6

The Committee urges that the budgetary resources granted for space policy be equivalent, at a minimum, to the level of funding envisaged in scenario B of Annex 2 and to avoid any chance that investment by the EU might result in a corresponding decline in investment by Member States.

5.7

Space policy, because of the human, scientific and strategic challenges it involves, touches at the very heart of the human adventure. As a result, Europe is again on the road to a date with history, in a geopolitical context where other leading continental powers are key protagonists. We do not have the right to miss this encounter.

Brussels, 31 March 2004.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Roger BRIESCH