By Vladimír Remek - 25th October 2012
We should appreciate that without the use of space technologies, modern life could not function as we know it
The EU must send a signal to industry and the public that it considers space policy to be a major European priority, writes Vladimír Remek
I welcome the fact that the Cyprus presidency has decided to organise a space conference in Larnaca, especially given my belief in the opportunities available to small EU member states through participation in a common European space policy. My homeland, the Czech Republic, is a good example. However, current debate surrounding this policy is dominated by the uncertainty of financing for major projects in 2014 and beyond. This mainly concerns the European programme for earth observation (GMES). I want to illustrate here, why I am convinced that the financing of these activities is of utmost importance, even at a time of economic crisis.
GMES and Galileo, Europe’s own global navigation satellite system, are both major EU projects. It is no coincidence that these projects are identified as strategic for economic and scientific development. We should appreciate that without the use of space technologies modern life could not function as we know it. Turning off the satellites orbiting the Earth for just a few hours would cause the collapse of virtually all fields of human activity.
Yes, there is an economic crisis that is pushing unemployment up while economies stagnate. However, according to a UK space agency publication last summer, the UK space industry grew by 7.5 per cent in the period 2010-2011. In times of crisis, this figure is striking. Moreover, in the fields related to space technology, growth between 2008-2009 and 2010-2011 was one per cent higher. If we look at the data from the perspective of British jobs, the finding is also surprising as employment in the high tech sector also grew at an average annual rate of 7.5 per cent. No wonder Britain invests in space technologies and considers space policy and its applications a significant part of the economy. Why should it not be the same in the rest of Europe?
There is often a discussion about the need to bear small and medium sized enterprises in mind. Therefore, I am glad that the European parliament has voted in favour of (for example in Galileo procurement) 40 per cent of direct investment for subcontracting going to small and medium sized enterprises. This should avoid only large companies benefiting.
The European Union has entered the field of space technology later than superpowers like Russia, and formerly the Soviet Union, or the United States. The EU is, in my view, quite effective and has experienced solid results with fewer resources. This does not mean that the EU can now slacken its efforts, for example by threatening to reduce funding for space projects, or the possible exclusion of GMES from the 2014-2020 multiannual financial framework.
I was a committed supporter of the February 2012 European parliament resolution to have GMES funding included in the multiannual financial framework. Without this, we will face serious problems and the existing investment of more than €3.2bn will lose its credibility. The commission’s proposal to fund the programme at the intergovernmental level would lead to the loss of its pan-European dimension. I am convinced that we need to send the opposite signal to industry, science and the public – that European space policy is a priority and that we are taking it seriously.
ladimír Remek is a vice-president of parliament's sky and space intergroup