May 2019 marks the year of the EU-ESA cooperation revival, as the 9th EU-ESA Space Council took place, within the Competitiveness (COMPET) council session, after a pause of eight years.
In order to frame the current EU-ESA context, the Space Council high-level meetings began in 2004, when the first legal basis for cooperation between the European Community and the European Space Agency have been drawn; the so-called “Framework Agreement”, since that date, has the objective to better coordinate the space activities among the two Institutions.
The need to reiterate the future cooperation and assuring the steps forwards in the EU-ESA cooperation, made signed in October 2016, by ESA Director General, Jan Wörner and Commissioner Elżbieta Bieńkowska, the “Joint Statement on Shared Vision and Goals for the Future of Europe in Space”. The statement set today’s goals, such as a more integration of space into European society and economy and a more competitive European space sector.
Currently, the European Union is leader in the space exploration sector. However, many years and following space projects went down in history (and there are many more): Ariane in 1973 and Europa Projects; the cooperation with Copernicus and Galileo programmes, now two of the most successful programmes of the EU; and the creation of the European Space Agency, born from the necessity of counterweighting the dominant United States and Soviet space programs.
Therefore, talking about the revitalisation of the Space Council is meaningful, as space contribute to the life of European citizens, through job creation and growth, as well as the activities linked to space for the society, economy and security in the European Union. Whether it is for mobile devices or weather forecasts, space-based applications are essential to each country, as well as space cooperation among Institutions and Member States.
The 9th EU-ESA Space Council, concluded with “Space as an Enabler”, a joint statement and a cornerstone for a future space policy. The “New Space” is born: the Council of the European Union acknowledges that while in the past space domain was for a small group of countries, “driven firmly by public funding and interests, it is maturing and shaped by new actors, such as new space-faring nations and in particular by new private actors”.
Regarding the importat cooperation between the Institutions, the Member States, and also private actors, during the 9th EU-ESA Space Council, the Romanian Minister for Research and Innovation, Nicolae Hurduc, who chaired the COMPET Council, showed how the role of the Council Presidencies is very important to ensure continuity of the EU’s work in the Council.
Indeed, in this context, the closing Romanian Presidency, had in this regard, a priorities agenda very “space inclusive”. Not only “supporting European policies and initiatives at various stages of implementation in the field of research, innovation and space, […], the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC), […] and the European Space Programme will be among the Presidency’s priorities.”; but also the Presidency “intends to advance the negotiations on the proposal for a Regulation on the EU Space Programme […] under the 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework”.
There is no doubt, as we can read from the priority’s agenda, but also from its presence, that the Romanian Presidency of the EU really contributed to the revival of the EU-ESA Space Council, working closely with the Spanish Presidency of ESA and with the support of the Agency and the European Commission.
We can say Romania has concluded the Presidency of the Council with a big success, that is, positioning the country along with the big ones in the search of reaffirming the EU’s position as a leader in the space industry and its willingness to continue working to reinforce at global level its autonomous access to space.
It is now the turn of Finland, from July to December 2019, followed then by Croatia, who will conclude the Trio Presidency in June 2020. Both countries, even if with their respective agendas, will continue working towards the common goals set by the TRIO’s programme, in spirit of cooperation and of continuity of the EU long-term policies and projects.
Each member state can work and can achieve compactness towards a common goal. As we look to the future, ESA has already announced the Space 19+, – ESA council next ministerial council to secure budget from the Member States-, and Germany, that will take over the Presidency in July 2020, has already proposed to organize the 10th edition of EU-ESA Space Council. A good example to ensure cooperation and policy continuity for the sake of Europe.