Europe Looking for a Goal in Space

Politics, funding and vision took center stage at the 11th EU Space Policy Conference (2019) in Brussels. The event, which brings together everyone who’s anyone in the European space community, was themed loosely around the idea that it is time to connect with the European citizen.

Elzbieta Bienkowska, European Commissioner for Single Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, reminded participants that European elections are coming soon, and the result will be crucial for everyone, although she did not elaborate or suggest who anyone should vote for.

Meanwhile, the sitting European Parliament is busy reviewing the Commission’s proposed new space budget. The Commission wants to invest 16 billion euro in European space activities over the period 2021-2027, a budget 50 percent higher than that for the previous seven-year period. The bulk of the proposed budget, 9.7 billion euro, would go towards the EU’s satellite navigation systems Galileo and EGNOS. Among the Commission’s key strategic aims is the maintenance of European autonomy in space.

Part of connecting with citizens includes telling feel-good stories about European accomplishments, and Bienkowska was only one of many presenters willing to take on the task. “Europe is doing well is space,” shesaid. “Galileo now has 500 million users worldwide. We got here collectively, and we must go on collectively. And we must continue to adapt to new emerging needs, including security.

Geopolitical considerations, she suggested, are of moment. European autonomy and sovereignty in space is more important than ever in these uncertain times. “We need to promote a new European approach,” she said, “not copy others in world. The full potential of space is still largely unknown outside this room.” That includes even the European Parliament, she said, where the space budget will live or die.

Bienkowska lamented the lack of a clear narrative for Europe in space: “China is going to the moon, the U.S. is going to Mars. These are public goals, citizens goals. Where is Europe going? We need a target. What is our place on the global stage? Is it the orbital society, the Moon Village, human space flight? This is the moment, among all of you, to ask this question.”

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