EU, ESA revive joint Space Council after eight-year pause

Space

WASHINGTON — Citing a need for closer collaboration amid growing global competition, leaders from the 28-member European Union and the 22-member European Space Agency convened on Tuesday their first joint space council session since 2011.

The EU-ESA Space Council will seek to meet once a year going forward, Pedro Francisco Duque, Spain’s minister for science, innovation and universities, said May 28 at a news conference in Brussels. Germany, a member of both the EU and ESA, has proposed organizing the 2020 council session, he said.

Climate change and sustainable development are two topics put forward as discussion points for the council, European Union Commissioner Elżbieta Bieńkowska said.

European officials at the Brussels news conference avoided discussing why the Space Council, which started in 2004, had such a long lapse in meetings.

ESA Director General Jan Woerner, who was at the previous Space Council meeting in 2011, emphasized instead the importance of the council going forward.

“You always can ask why, but the more important thing is the future, and this is very clear that today we have a space council,” he said.

The move to revitalize the Space Council follows what Woerner referred to as a “shift of paradigm in space,” driven by startups, large corporations, technology breakthroughs and increased international competition, though he didn’t highlight any one specific catalyst.

Romanian Minister for Research and Innovation Nicolae Hurduc, who chaired the EU’s May 28 competitiveness council session preceding the Space Council meeting, said Romania felt the need to spearhead the effort because European nations can do more together than separate.

One likely factor driving the need for greater cooperation between the two organizations is the growing size of the European Union’s space budget. The European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, proposed a 16 billion euro ($17.9 billion) space budget for 2021 to 2027, which includes funding for Galileo navigation satellites, Copernicus environmental monitoring satellites and other programs. ESA is very involved in implementing Galileo, Copernicus and other EU space initiatives.

“This is as good a time as any to resuscitate this mechanism,” said Simon Seminari, a senior analyst at Euroconsult. “Obviously there is a lot of money at stake and a lot of coordination at stake.”

Another possible influence is the revival of the National Space Council in the United States in 2017 after a more than 20-year gap. Seminari said the European Union is often influenced by U.S. actions.

That includes the current U.S. push to establish a Space Force.

Bieńkowska said in January that the European Union needed to discuss a “European Space Force,” given the proliferation of similar concepts among its member states at national levels.

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