OPINION: Special European Council of July 17th-18th: what consequences for space?

By Olivier Lemaitre, Secretary General of Eurospace


On Friday this week, EU leaders will meet in Brussels to discuss the recovery plan to respond to the COVID-19 crisis and a new long-term EU budget. On 10 July, European Council President Charles Michel presented his proposal for the MFF and the recovery package.

Regarding “space”, Ch. Michel follows the last proposal of the Commission, that (incomprehensibly) decided to cut 7% in comparison to the budget it itself proposed in June 2018 for the EU Space Programme. Besides, the budget proposed by the Commission will mostly be spent in procurements to Industry, therefore what is actually the point of cutting the budget on the one hand and, on the other hand, to have to invent mitigating measures to safeguard industry’s economic soundness?

The practical consequences of this proposed decrease of the budget on the different components of  the EU Space programme are still hard to define at this stage, as the Commission never disclosed the breakdown of its proposed budget for the different part of the EU Space programme. We can at least anticipate a de-scoping of the original ambitions regarding Copernicus, and achievements even more modest than expected on Govsatcom and Space Surveillance and Tracking…

There is also a risk that the budget decrease will also affect the capacity of the EU to start positioning itself on Space Traffic Management, although this would be much needed.

On Industry, the combination of 3 factors (the economic downturn and its consequences on the open commercial market for satellites to which European industry is strongly exposed; the heavy impact the Covid-19 crisis has on air transport and on the global aerospace corporate structures with which the space industry is strongly linked; and the modest and fragile ambitions at European level) can lead to severe capability loss, including skills, that will take years to rebuild!

On a more positive note, the promising ambitions of Commissioner Breton, recently unveiled in the press, to reinforce European autonomy in connectivity infrastructures, might represent a formidable opportunity for the Industry to maintain and develop its competences, and to propose a new approach to the EU (answering the objectives of Govsatcom, contributing to the future “Quantum Communication Infrastructure” and anticipating the enormous future needs in terms of connectivity and secured communications)… provided of course that this initiative is not carried out at the expense of the already existing programmes.

Now we do hope that the EC will be creative enough in terms of budgetary policy and procurements to implement this very exciting vision.

Before that, we do hope that the European heads of state and governments will support a more ambitious budget for space, which is key for the efficiency of European public policies, for economic growth and to support Europe’s influence in the world.