Main page
 On Bildt
 New Economy
 Foreign &
 security policy
 Moderate Party


Space Policy for Europe
In Leiden September 5, I was asked to contribute to the discussion on the setting a space policy for the Netherlands. My contribution deals with the space policy issues facing Europe as a whole.

Remarks at Space Policy Seminar, Leiden, the Netherlands, September 5, 2001.

Let me start by saying how much I find myself in agreement with the approach to space policy suggested in the Advisory Opinion on Space Policy presented by the NIVR – the Netherlands Agency for Aerospace Programmes.

In March of last year, the Director General of the European Space Agency Mr Rodota asked myself along with Mr Jean Peyrelevade from France and Mr Lothar Späth from Germany to take an independent look on some aspects of European space policy.

Together, we visited key European facilities, not least ESTEC here in the Netherlands, and late last year issues our recommendations, appropriately called “Towards a Space Agency for the European Union”.

To sum up our message in one sentence, we wanted to bring space down to earth.

For a long time, space policy had been seen as a special, separate and exclusive activity, only very loosely connected to what we were trying to do otherwise in our respective societies.

It was the quest for the new frontiers out there, fascinating and important as that is, but it was certainly not something seen as an integrated part of our overall political efforts down in the mud of everyday politics.

These space missions continue to be of importance.

It remains of strategic importance that Europe strives towards excellence in science across the board. We can not allow the emergence of an ever-growing science gap between Europe and the United States without that having profound long-term implications well beyond the boundaries of science itself.

And we must thus be able to continue to invest in the different scientific aspects of space activities.

Here, we are talking about a trilogy:

The science of space: understanding the universe and the solar system.

The science in space: using the very different environment of space to perform experiments in physics and the life sciences that can not be done in an earth environment.

And the science from space: platforms in space that can make vital contributions to the scientific study of earth itself and different processes and problems here.

And we are talking both about basic science, and about applied science. As we know, the one has its base in the other. They cannot be separated.

These more scientific aspects of space policy continue to be of great importance. As societies trying to create a better future for each and everyone, we must never give up exploring the very furthest of the frontiers of human knowledge.

But as we made our recommendations on space policy last year, our thrust was a different one.

We wanted to bring space down to earth in demonstrating how increasingly integrated the terrestrial and the near-earth space environment are becoming, and how dependent we are on space-based platforms and activities when it comes to tackling key political, economic and social tasks in our societies.

And we wanted first to relate space activities to the political goals set by the European Union as well as its member states, and then to gradually integrate decision-making on space policy with the decision-making structures in Europe in general and the European Union in specific.

This is very much the approach taken in the NIVR Advisory Opinion on Space Policy, when it states that “the space sector is no longer characterised by the exploration for technological possibilities. Today, it is a sector that produces potential solutions for specific problems in other sectors.”

And the single objective for space policy it suggests – “The mobilisation of the possible solutions that space activities offer for specific political, public and economic issues that are relevant for the Netherlands” - could well have been taken out of our report, although we would have talked about all of Europe instead only one of its countries and regions.

Today, we take it for granted that telecommunications and television to a very large extent is dependent also on space-based platforms. We can’t talk about a terrestrial and a space-based system, since these are gradually merging with each other, producing an integrated near-earth telecommunication infrastructure.

Were we to shut down all the telecommunications and broadcast satellites over Europe and the Atlantic, we would see our continent go silent very fast.

Here, the exploration of space has passed through the initial phase of public funding for research and development to the phase when the overwhelming amount of money is coming from purely commercial operations. There isn’t a serious international telecommunications or TV operator that does not invest heavily also in different space based components to its integrated systems.

In other areas, this transition hasn’t yet occurred to the same extent.

We can no longer think about our weather forecasting systems, which are increasingly important to different walks of life, without the satellites up there sending down their stream of data about clouds and winds and temperature in the remotest part of the globe. Here, commercial and different public interest share responsibility for what is evolving as a seem-integrated global infrastructure of weather watching in order to bring us weather forecasting.

As we look forward, I believe there will be the need for continued, although limited, publicly funded research and development efforts in these areas, although they should be seen as increasingly commercial.

There is a wide discrepancy between the structure of spending on space efforts in the United States and in Europe. While the overwhelming part of European space spending is civilian, in the US the military component is very significant, and in all probability growing in relative importance.

This is related to global aspirations, as well as perceived security needs, that have no real counterpart in Europe or within the European Union.

But at the same time we must see the often-crucial role that these programmes are playing in pushing the envelope of technology further and further, thus contributing also to the general development of space technologies and their applications.

When literally billions of dollars go into the development of systems for the real-time transfer of large amounts of information through space-based assets between small devices anywhere on or above the surface of the earth, it is obvious that this has enormous significance for the possibility of developing flexible broadband infrastructures across the continents and the seas. In view of the importance of those for future developments, we in Europe can hardly neglect the also commercial significance of aspects of US military space programmes, and discuss the implications these will have for our civilian space efforts.

The most glaring example of these developments is the evolution of the GPS system for global satellite-based navigation and positioning.

This was originally a military programme run by the US Navy for its particular purposes, originally related primarily to the needs of the missile-carrying nuclear submarines always ready to strike back against a Soviet nuclear attack.

But since then, GPS has developed into a system with rapidly-increasing civilian applications, and the space-based navigational technology promises to be one of the most important technologies when it comes to the handling of a large number of infrastructure, transport and communication issues in our crowded European environment. Your report gives numerous examples of how important this will be not the least for a country like the Netherlands with your hubs for air, land and sea communications.

The GPS continues to be a programme operated and funded by the United States Navy, and since this arrangement has been kept very deliberately, one must assume that if there were to occur a conflict between US military requirements or other needs to be served by this system, it would be the former that would have the upper hand.

This would probably have been less of a problem as long as GPS was a system with only limited use. But with space-based positioning system proliferating through society, it rapidly becomes a rather disturbing phenomenon. I have every understanding for the importance that sometimes in critical situations must be given to military requirements, be they US or be they European, but I would be most reluctant to make key parts of the infrastructure of society dependent on them.

If we are serious in trying to achieve less congestion on the roads of Europe, safer and more efficient freight transport, less congestion in the air with the ensuing delays and problems, safer road transport and, in general terms, better and more safe use of the capacity of public transport infrastructure, we must develop space-based positioning systems that we can rely on in all situations and that are geared primarily to the needs of civilian society.

This is the reason for the Galileo project for a European system of navigational satellites from 2008 and onwards which is now being discussed. The Belgian Presidency of the European Union calls it a European Super GPS, and the issue is now on the agenda of the European Parliament.

Galileo raises a number of important and difficult issues.

It illustrates the critical importance that space-based system can have for the solution of urgent everyday issues in our societies. It makes it necessary to confront issues of the relationship across the Atlantic and the extent to which we are ready to be dependent on US systems having sometimes very different priorities. It forces the debate about the relative shares of funding from the public and the private sectors, with both of them significant beneficiaries of the system. And it drives towards a much closer integration between the European Space Agency and the European Union.

Thus, I believe that the way the Galileo issue is handled will define a large part of the role of Europe in space, and the role space will play in overall European developments, in the years to come.

But Galileo is by no means the only significant issue we are facing. In our report last year, we stressed the key importance of space-based assets when it comes to the different security concerns of Europe, be that what we might call the green security issues highlighted by the concern over global climate change, or be that the more classical security concerns that can be illustrated with the on-going problems in the Balkans.

Europe has reason to be proud of its record in global environmental monitoring using different space platforms. In much the same way as this is a natural reflection of political priorities in our different societies, it reinforces the ability of the European Union and its member governments to pursue policies of global environmental responsibility in different global for and in the international debate.

Before summer, the large Envisat satellite left ESTEC for the European launch centre in Kourou in South America, and is presently scheduled for launch in November, giving Europe a quantum leap in capability in a number of areas of broadly defined environmental monitoring from space.

But we must also look at the way in which we use other earth monitoring assets operated by different European countries.

One must wonder whether it really makes sense for Europe to operate both a sophisticated centre for more civilian earth monitoring outside of Rome and a sophisticated centre for more classic security earth monitoring outside Madrid. And this particularly in a situation in which we are increasingly stressing the interrelationship between “”soft” and “hard” security issues.

As we go forward in formulating a space policy that truly serves the public interest, we must thus increasingly relate it to the possibilities of contributing to the solution of the different everyday problems of our societies, and we must increasingly build institutions that integrates space efforts with our overall political efforts.

Thus, our report from late last year called for “bringing space down to earth”, and for an evolution towards a space agency for the European Union, making its contribution to the achievement of the different overall policy goals set by the European Council.

This is important not only in relation to the different public needs that are there – broadband for a true information society, solutions to numerous infrastructure and logistic problems, handling of environmental problems, dealing with disasters and different related contingencies etc – but also when it comes to the position of Europe in the world and our common possibility to contribute to global developments.

We need close international co-operation in space. But in order to achieve this on a basis that we can be satisfied with, we must demonstrate a high level of competence. Put bluntly: if we are able to demonstrate the ability to compete with the US is selected areas, we create much better conditions for co-operating with them in these and other areas. We must be a serious partner for co-operation.

This applies not only to the United States. There are significant possibilities for much deeper co-operation between Europe and Russia on different aspects of space policy. There is, just to mention one example, renewed interest in using the large Russian Soy launcher from the European facilities in Kourou.

And we should note that Japan very recently successfully tested its new space launch system, and that numerous other countries are busy launching and developing different space systems.

It is of importance beyond the field of space policy that Europe is seen as a promising candidate for co-operation by these countries as well.

Bildt Blog Comments

In addition to this webpage, and the email letters ongoing since 1994, I have now started a blog as well.

You find it at

At you will continue to find articles, speeches and different documents.

At the blog there will be the shorter and perhaps somewhat faster comments.

And the e-letter continues to give at the least an attempt at analys.

[email protected]