Sunday, September 12, 2004

A giant leap for the EU

Quietly, or so it seems – and certainly without any noticeable publicity in the British media – the EU is gearing itself up to become a significant military space power.

Flagged up in an earlier Blog, the latest developments have just been reported by the European Voice, which claims the Council is now recommending that the Union's member states should pool all their space navigation resources, fuse their civilian and military programmes and allow for collective access to them. The priority, the Council says, "should be for Europe to define common standards for all planned and future Space programmes".

This plan was discussed on 8 September by the Council's politico-military group and it will be debated at ministerial level by the end of this year.

This follows in the wake of the publication in June of the Commission's White Paper on space, provocatively entitled "A New Frontier for an Expanding Union", this "action plan for implementing the European Space Policy" proposes an extended European space policy "to support the achievement of the European Union's policy goals". Although these include faster economic growth, job creation and industrial competitiveness, enlargement and cohesion, and sustainable development, they also include "security and defence".

"Europe", it says, referring to the Galileo satellite positioning system and the earth observation system (Global Monitoring for the Environment and Security: GMES), "already possesses many of the capabilities needed to develop the services and applications that will support EU policies". And, in a stunning reversal of previous claims where it has consistently and baldly denied that Galileo has any military application, the Commission adds:

In addition to supporting a wide range of civil policies, space systems can also provide direct contributions to the Union's Common Foreign and Security Policy and its European Security and Defence Policy.
This is further acknowledged by European Voice which cites Daniel Keohane, of the think-tank Centre for European Reform, saying that while most European Space programmes have been non-military in design, they could still have defence applications.

For example, although the Galileo satellite network is primarily a commercial project, defence experts say it could be used by military planners to manage troops and munitions. Keohane says that the EU should "spend less on things like conscript troops and outdated weapons systems" to be able to increase the Space budget.
That budget increase already looks set to happen for, on 3 August - in another announcement which seems to have been ignored by the British media – Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin recommended increased EU funding on space research, to around €10 billion a year during the next Framework Programme (FP7), starting in 2007, the date to coincide with the projected adoption of the EU constitution, when space policy becomes an EU competence.

With that, Busquin declared that "The debate on the future of research in Europe has been launched", but it seems to be debate about which both the British public and MPs seem totally ignorant.

Alarmingly, in a House of Commons debate on the Galileo satellite navigation system in European Standing Committee A, on 7 June, Christopher Chope, shadow minister for environment & transport, noted a reference in the briefing documentation to "military satellite-based navigation and timing services".

He then asked his counterpart, the parliamentary under-Secretary of state for transport, David Jamieson, about the military applications of Galileo, observing that "we have been told all along that it is a civil project". Jamieson answered:

This is indeed a civil project, and it is the ambition of the United Kingdom and most of the other countries that are signed up to it that it should continue to be so. One country has indicated that it has some ambition for Galileo to have use other than for civil applications, but we shall resist that most strongly.
This really will not do. Quietly, the EU is embarking on an ambitious military space programme, allocating massive expenditure to it, anticipating powers it will get only if the constitution is ratified - and nothing is being said. The government must come clean on what is going on.

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