ESA Agrees to Explore Closer Cooperation With European Union

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ESA logoBy Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc Managing Editor

In a declaration adopted at their November meeting, ESA’s ministers tasked Director General  Jean-Jacques Dordain with overseeing as process designed to evolve the space agency and to improve its cooperation with the European Union (EU).

The move comes in response to an effort by the European Commission to forge closer links between the two independent organizations, which have overlapping responsible for space policy and activities on the continent. These efforts could eventually end up with ESA coming under the control of the union sometime during the next decade.

Specifically, the ESA ministerial declaration requires the following actions over the next two years:

  • the Director General to work with the European Commission in order to provide a common analysis on the situation of the European space sector and a common vision on its evolution aiming at building up coherence, convergence and complementarity among the different actors;
  • the Director General to elaborate and assess, in consultation with the ESA Council, the different scenarios for ESA to respond to the objectives defined in this Resolution;
  • the Co-Chairs of the ESA Council at ministerial level to provide the Director General with the political guidelines for this reflection, in close consultation with the Ministers of Member States and coordination with the EU.

The declaration also invites Dordain to:

  • report to the co-Chairs of the ESA Council at ministerial level and to the Council on a regular basis, on the progress of the above reflection process and to bring forward proposals for decisions on the further evolution of ESA to be taken by the Member States at the occasion of the next ESA Council meeting at ministerial level scheduled to take place in 2014;
  • make proposals to Council, after consultation with the European Cooperating States, aimed at improving the cooperation with European States wishing to contribute to ESA’s policies and activities, and facilitating their accession to ESA as full Member States.

The declaration says that it is up to the member states to decide the future direction of ESA, and that the space agency must accommodate both EU and non-EU nations in doing so.

ESA and the EU have been working together on joint programs under a Framework Agreement concluded in May 2004 and subsequently extended to 2016. The EU has taken on an increasingly important role in the operation of ESA, contributing more to the space agency’s 2012 budget than any of the 20 member nations.

In a recent communication to the European Council and Parliament, the European Commission identified a number of areas where differences between the two organizations are causing problems with cooperation. These problems include:

Mismatch of financial rules: ESA’s largest programmes require geographic return: each nation must get back in contracts the same percentage of funding that it put in. When ESA implements EU programs, the space agency must seek best value regardless of where the contractors are located. These divergent approaches have caused problems with programs jointly funded by both agencies.

Membership asymmetry:  Only 18 of ESA’s 20 member states are members of the EU, with Switzerland and Norway being outside the union. Canada also is an associated ESA member but outside the EU.  ESA’s one-nation, one-vote policy gives non-EU members “a disproportionate leverage over matters that may affect the EU.”  The commission recommends qualified-majority voting over unanimous consent.

Asymmetry in security and defence matters:  The presence of non-EU member states in ESA has complicated the union’s ability to coordinate security and defense matters with the space agency. The Lisbon Treaty gave the EU authority over these areas.

Absence of mechanisms for policy coordination:“ESA’s space activities lack a structural connection and coordination mechanism within the wider policy-making of the European Union….Specific mechanisms for coordination and cooperation need to be agreed in time-consuming negotiations at programme level. There is no formal mechanism at policy level to ensure that initiatives taken within ESA are consistent with EU policies.”

Missing political accountability for ESA: While the European Union is accountable directly to voters through an elected Parliament, ESA operates on its own and is accountable to national governments.

The European Commission suggested three possible options for improving cooperation that could be presented to ESA by the end of next year.

“These options would include: improved cooperation under the ‘status quo’, bringing ESA as an intergovernmental organisation under the authority of the European Union (following, to a certain extent, the model of the European Defence Agency), or transforming ESA into an EU agency (following the model of existing regulatory agencies).

“The Commission, working closely with ESA, will carry out a detailed cost benefit and risk analysis of the different options, with a view to maximising synergies between the different actors including the GSA.

“These options would preserve the current essential features of ESA (i.e. optional programmes subscribed by Member States) while giving ESA key EU features – such as qualified majority decision-making or accountability vis-à-vis the European Parliament.”

Officials admit that making these changes will take some time. “The Commission considers that a clear target date should be set between 2020 and 2025 for this long term objective,” the communication reads.

The texts of ESA ministerial declaration and an accompanying statement are reproduced below.

POLITICAL DECLARATION TOWARDS THE EUROPEAN SPACE AGENCY THAT BEST SERVES EUROPE
(adopted on 20 November 2012)

We the Ministers representing the Governments of the 20 Member States of the European Space Agency (ESA), assembled in Council meeting on 21 November 2012, resolve to consider the further evolution of ESA in order to consolidate the competitiveness of the European space sector to face the challenges of the fast changing world environment,

STRESSING the central role that ESA, as a world class space agency, is continuing to play in the successes of Europe since nearly 50 years, in pushing the frontiers of knowledge, in enabling the delivery of daily services to citizens, in supporting the competitiveness of European industry and operators in the world-wide commercial market and in building European partnerships and a common European ambition in space,

RECALLING that ESA Member States have the responsibility to decide how ESA will successfully pursue its adaptation to an evolving environment, after having conducted its development into an efficient, flexible and growing organisation,

UNDERLINING the growing importance of space activities for society and the economy and RECOGNISING the increasing role of the European Union (EU) in integrating the European space policy into numerous core European political and economic initiatives and its growing involvement as an actor in space matters through its space programmes,

RECALLING the Framework Agreement between ESA and the EU which entered into force in May 2004 and has been renewed until the year 2016, the joint Resolutions of the Space Council, and the instruments through which the flagship programmes Galileo and GMES are implemented and STRESSING the importance for European policies and citizens of these flagship programmes and their timely and cost effective implementation, including the delivery of early services by end 2014,

NOTING that the EU has, through the entry into force of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, become one of the three key actors of the European space policy, together with ESA and Member States, thereby reinforcing Europe’s ambitions and capabilities in space,

NOTING that the European Commission has adopted a Communication to the Council and the European Parliament on “Establishing appropriate relations between the European Union and the European Space Agency”,

TAKING INTO ACCOUNT the rapid changes of the environment of ESA, through the growing number of its Member States, the growing maturity and consolidation of European industry, the arrival of new competitors and of new public and private partners, and thus the need to further strengthen Europe in space,

1. STRESS the need for all the European actors to contribute to a further increase in the overall efficiency and competitiveness of the European space sector, and thus CONSIDER that ESA must further evolve, in coherence and complementarity with the other actors, towards the European space agency that best serves Europe in a competitive world-wide environment.

2. REQUEST this further evolution of ESA to take full benefit of and encompass:

(i) ESA’s capabilities and achievements based on an intergovernmental framework offering to its Member States an efficient framework of cooperation for implementing their competence in space in pooling their objectives and resources;

(ii) the EU competence in space, in accommodating the consequences in ESA’s operation and thus providing efficient programme management of EU funded programmes under EU rules;
with the objective of providing the most appropriate framework in which to develop the space capabilities and resources at European level for Research and Development.

3. DECIDE to initiate with immediate effect, a reflection process outlined in paragraph 4 aiming at defining how the evolution of ESA can reach the above objective enabling ESA to provide:

(i) all ESA Member States with a flexible framework for investing and implementing together their respective policies and sharing the common benefits, providing ESA Member States equivalent rights and obligations whether or not they are also EU Member States;

(ii) the EU with a unique pool of research, technology and development capabilities at European level with which to define and develop the technologies and space infrastructures required to implement their policies;

(iii) European industry with a core customer and competent partner able to support its competitiveness and successes in the world-wide commercial market;

(iv) European space-based service providers and users of space infrastructures including the scientific community with a partner able to design and validate new competitive technologies, to develop and procure space infrastructures responding to their requirements, and to transfer to them the necessary knowledge and support to ensure the proper and efficient exploitation of these infrastructures;

(v) States candidate to accession to ESA with an improved framework under which they can be associated to ESA activities before becoming ESA member States, thus consolidating the European space interests as a whole.

4. MANDATE in view of preparing the decisions to be taken by ESA Member States on the further evolution of ESA:

- the Director General to work with the European Commission in order to provide a common analysis on the situation of the European space sector and a common vision on its evolution aiming at building up coherence, convergence and complementarity among the different actors;

- the Director General to elaborate and assess, in consultation with the ESA Council, the different scenarios for ESA to respond to the objectives defined in this Resolution;

- the Co-Chairs of the ESA Council at ministerial level to provide the Director General with the political guidelines for this reflection, in close consultation with the Ministers of Member States and coordination with the EU.

5. HIGHLIGHT our willingness to play our role in ensuring the coherence and coordination between the respective processes on the ESA and EU sides concerning the evolution of ESA.

6. INVITE the Director General to report to the co-Chairs of the ESA Council at ministerial level and to the Council on a regular basis, on the progress of the above reflection process and to bring forward proposals for decisions on the further evolution of ESA to be taken by the Member States at the occasion of the next ESA Council meeting at ministerial level scheduled to take place in 2014.

7. INVITE the Director General to make proposals to Council, after consultation with the European Cooperating States, aimed at improving the cooperation with European States wishing to contribute to ESA’s policies and activities, and facilitating their accession to ESA as full Member States.

8. WELCOME the support for the objectives and associated process contained in this Political Declaration expressed by the Governments of Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, and Slovak Republic attending this Council as observers.

Accompanying Statement by Ministers of the European Space Agency Member States to the Political Declaration towards the European Space Agency that best serves Europe ESA/C-M/CCXXXIV/Res.4 (Final)

Reflections on the evolution of ESA after the entry into force of the Treaty on the Functioning (TFEU) of the EU are taking place both on the EU and ESA sides.

Discussions have started on the EU side on the relationship between the EU and ESA on 7 November at the EU Space Working Party, based on the main elements of a Communication by the European Commission which has been adopted on 14 November 2012.

The Member States of ESA have the responsibility to decide on how ESA should evolve in order to make it best serve Europe.

We, Ministers of ESA Member States, have therefore discussed this matter during the ESA Council meeting at Ministerial level in Naples, which was the first Ministerial meeting held after the entry into force of the TFEU and we have all supported the attached Political Declaration.

By adopting this Political Declaration, we Ministers of ESA Member States, wish to emphasize our readiness to start a reflection on the further evolution of ESA, with a clear mandate given to the ESA Director General and to the Co-chairs of the Council meeting at ministerial level, and to play our role in ensuring the coherence and coordination between the respective processes on both the ESA and EU sides.

  • usk0

    So, what you’re saying is that things are still very much up in the air for the moment.

    Noted.