Thursday, November 25, 2004

Galileo: Select Committee report

The House of Commons Transport Committee has now produced a report on Galileo, the EU’s proposed satellite navigation system. And interesting reading it makes – available on the Parliamentary website here.

The executive summary notes that the project "has the scope to provide real improvements in the world’s satellite navigation systems" "and the UK’s strengths in satellite technology… mean that we are very well placed to participate in this exciting venture."

"However," it continues, "we believe that Parliament and the public are not sufficiently aware of Galileo’s costs and benefits, which in some cases appear to have been poorly articulated, and insufficiently assessed."

That is something of an understatement, as the coverage in the media has been abysmal, to the extent that the bulk of the population – and even otherwise well-informed people – are scarcely aware of the existence of one of the EU’s most expensive and ambitious projects.

Inevitably, therefore, the Committee concludes:

Important questions need to be addressed before the European Union Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council makes final decisions on the programme. They involve the value for money of the project, the date when it is realistic to expect the Galileo system to be operational, the commitment to the Public-Private Partnership proposed for the deployment and operational phases of the programme, and the mechanisms by which the civilian status of the Galileo project is to be secured.

The United Kingdom Government also needs to assess far more clearly what use it will make of Galileo, and which services it will require.
Gwynneth Dunwoody, chairwoman of the committee, added, "Signing up to the next stages require a huge leap of faith," but she need not have bothered. The only media report I have seen so far is on the Bloomberg press agency. As they have done so many times before, the mainstream media have ignored the issue.

Nevertheless, Dunwoody pursues her point, saying that the EU has not yet proved the need for the programme, while her committee says that it doubts the reliability of the programme's estimated costs as well as the size of the market the Galileo would tap. Dunwoody concludes, "We don't think the government should let itself be bullied into jumping."

The issue will be considered by the EU's transport council in December and, despite our transport committee's reservations, it is likely to go ahead. And the reason why it will do so is because of the vital role of Galileo in underpinning the EU’s security and defence policy as, whatever the EU commission might say publicly, the system has important military applications.

The problem with Dunwoody and her committee, in questioning the financial viability of the project, is that they have virtually ignored the military applications. The have fallen for the commission and government "spin" that it is intended to be a civilian project, even though they received no assurances that it would not be used for military purposes. Yet, it is the defence market - and particularly in selling hi-tech weapond and systems to China, which need an independent GPS system - where the money is really to be made.

Neither has the committee established that there are proper control mechanisms in place to prevent the system being used for military purposes, leaving the whole military issue unsatisfacorily resolved.

In our view, this is one of the most important issues of our time, primarily because of those undisclosed military applications and the sale of the system to China, which almost certainly intends to use it for military purposes. That we are involved in the project means this will have – and is already having – a serious impact on our special relationship with the US.

Much to our surprise, we find we have published no less then 25 postings on this subject. For those of our readers who are new to the Blog, if you wish to follow the whole sorry saga through from the point when we took it up, we have provided the links below, in chronological order. Happy reading.

Posts: 01; 02; 03; 04; 05; 06; 07; 08; 09; 10; 11; 12; 13; 14; 15; 16; 17; 18; 19; 20; 21; 22; 23; 24; 25.

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