The last six months have been busy ones for the European Space Agency (ESA) on the diplomatic front, with the space agency welcoming two new full member states and deepening cooperation with four other nations.
Estonia and Hungary joined ESA in February, increasing the number of full member states to 22. Their accession to the ESA Convention completed a lengthy four-step process under which their involvement in the space agency gradually increased over a series of years.
The process begins with a cooperation agreement which allows a nation to begin working with ESA on a formal basis. Financial commitments during this stage are low. The next step is to become a European Cooperating State (ECS), which allows the nation to participate in ESA procurements and to participate in most of the agency’s programs, except for the Basic Technology Research Programme.
A Plan for European Cooperating State (PECS) Charter usually follows within a year. PECS is a five-year research and development program under which cooperation with ESA increases and the nation’s space capabilities are improved. When the agreement is complete, the nation can begin negotiations for full membership or sign another PECS Charter.
ESA has made significant progress over the last six months in moving four nations closer to full membership. In January, the space agency signed a five-year PECS Charter with Latvia, making that country the second Baltic state to reach that level of cooperation.
|ESA COOPERATION AGREEMENTS & FUTURE EXPANSION|
|NATION||EU MEMBERSHIP||COOPERATION AGREEMENT||ECS AGREEMENT||PECS CHARTER||POSSIBLE ESA MEMBERSHIP|
Lithuania, Slovakia and Bulgaria have signed ECS agreements with ESA in the past six months. The parties expect PECS Charters to be signed within a year of the ECS agreements.
The four nations will not be able to join ESA as full members until the early 2020’s. The estimates in the table above assume that negotiations for full membership will take at least a year following the completion of the PECS Charters. Of course, ESA and the countries can always sign another five-year charter.
Slovenia is the only nation with near-term prospects of becoming a full ESA member, assuming both sides are interested. The nation’s PECS Charter with ESA expires on Nov. 30 of this year.
Two other European Union members, Cyprus and Malta, have signed cooperation agreements with ESA. Of the EU’s 28 member states, only Croatia has no formal cooperative arrangement with the space agency. In December, the ESA Ministerial Council authorized officials to begin discussions to establish formal cooperation with Croatia.
Three non-EU nations — Turkey, Ukraine and Israel — have cooperation agreements with ESA. Agency officials consider the prospects of full membership for these three countries as remote at the current time.
However, ESA ministers instructed agency officials to begin discussions with Israel, Australia and South Africa on future association agreements with ESA. The ministers noted that “concrete cooperation is at an advanced stage” with these nations and that “prospects for mutual benefits are existing”.
Canada has been an associate member of ESA since 1979. Canada takes part in ESA’s programs, decision making and procurement. The nation receives a fair return of funds for its domestic industry in proportion to what it contributes.
Canada’s contribution to ESA’s budget is rather small, amounting to 15.5 million euros (CND $20.6 million; US $16.4 million) for 2015. That amount is 0.5% of the amount contributed by ESA’s member and associate states.