Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Preserving the grand projet

With the EU's "vanity project" having been savaged by the House of Commons, the EU Council of Ministers has now taken its turn to give Galileo the thumbs down - or so it would appear.

According to The Associated Press, a plea by Germany to bail out the grand projet fell on deaf ears at a meeting of EU finance ministers yesterday.

We are told that Portuguese finance minister Fernando Teixeira Dos Santos said none of the other 26 EU member states supported Berlin's call for the costs of salvaging the project to be shared by the independent 17-nation European Space Agency (ESA). "They were alone," Dos Santos said of Germany. "There was no support."

However, this is not as terminal as it might seem, as there are other agendas running. Germany opposed the EU commission's plan to shift unspent agricultural subsidies to cover immediate funding needs, but its plan would mean that Galileo would be financed and managed by the ESA.

That, of course, would mean the commission losing control of the project – which it could never even consider.

Britain and the Netherlands also oppose using the EU agriculture budget to bail out Galileo, and want the money to come from the research and development program, so it was not going to be in favour of the German idea but, as for the others, they evidently rallied behind the commission to keep the project in-house.

Having already missed the 2008 deadline, when full operation was planned, the highly elastic new timetable anticipates the system going into action around 2012. And, with the Lisbon treaty supposed to come into force in 2009, giving the commission control over an EU space policy, it will be in a position to draw down funds from the EU budget, without having to rely on the ESA.

At this late stage, therefore, the real mission of the commission was to protect the €1 billion already spent on the system and hold the ground until the new funds start flowing. That may even mean a few more years added to the timetable but, when it comes to preserving the grand projet, that is a very small detail.

Galileo lives to fight another day.

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