06 Jun 2018   |   News

EU denies ‘power grab’ on European Space Agency

Plans to create EU Agency for the Space Programme will not encroach on ESA activities, European Commission says

European Space Agency's Galileo satellites. (Photo: ESA)

The European Commission has denied it is set on creating a rival to the European Space Agency (ESA), reacting strongly to claims made by Jan Wörner, ESA’s director general, who said the EU 2021 – 2027 plan for space research amount to a blueprint for a duplicate body that will, “take decades and cost billions”.

The Commission outlined the plan for a beefed-up space research programme as part of a budget presentation in which it proposed raising the space budget to €16 billion between 2021 and 2027, an increase of about €5 billion on the present period.  

Most of the money, €9.7 billion, would go to the EU’s satellite navigation programmes, Galileo and Egnos. Other beneficiaries would be the Copernicus Earth observation project, which gets €5.8 billion, while an additional €500 million would support secure satellite communications and space environment monitoring.

But the most controversial part of the proposal, which will need to go through the European Parliament and member states to get approval, involves creating an “EU Agency for the Space Programme”.

Wörner has come out strongly against the plans. “There is no need to develop a new Space Agency in parallel in Europe, the ramp-up of which would take decades and cost billions - and would therefore in itself be a major risk to the programmes it manages,” he wrote in a blog on ESA’s website. “We need to streamline, not double administrative layers.”

ESA gets the majority of its funding from the EU, but it is not an EU agency and is independent of Brussels.

Industry commissioner Elżbieta Bieńkowska said the proposed new agency would not take responsibilities away from ESA. “There is definitely no transfer of competence from ESA to the new agency,” she said. “All the institutions need [each other].”

An accompanying Commission statement said ESA will remain "the main partner in programme implementation, given its unmatched expertise".

“We’ve all read the blog,” a senior Commission official said. “There’s no duplication. There’s no power grabbing. There’s still a clear distinction of tasks. We are not altering the balance of power between all actors [but] are making decision-making more efficient.”

In contrast to Wörner’s blog, ESA’s official reaction to the proposed EU agency generally positive, saying, “We are on track for United Space in Europe and for a United Europe in Space,”  it said.

However, the agency’s statement also made a point of underlining its own expertise: “ESA’s understanding is to continue to be The space agency of its member states and for the EU.”

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