Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The soap opera continues

Somebody really should create a television soap opera on the EU's Galileo programme. It might have been intended as a satellite positioning system, but it is getting to be as tedious and as long-drawn out as – say – Crossroads ever was.

Last week, it was the transport ministers' turn to express their reservations on the project – so predictable that I don't think we even bothered to report it. But, this week, the finance ministers of the EU had a go at the commission's proposal to raid the CAP funds to pay for their vanity project. But, reports the IHT, the commission got nothing out of them either.

Once again, it was Germany in the running, questioning the final price tag and opposing the raid on the CAP. No less than the German finance minister, Peer Steinbrueck, has declared that he wants the money to come from the European Space Agency – which is financed from voluntary contributions form its 17 members.

There is, of course, an ulterior motive in that Steinbrueck thinks the move would benefit German companies more than if contracts for the project were shared across the 27-nation EU. "It is right (that) they who pay the lion's share can expect" the largest return in contract work, he says.

Less visible but firmly in the opposition camp are Britain and the Netherlands. They have also rejected the idea of using "surplus" CAP funds, but they want the money to come from the EU's research and development program. This is so unrealistic (as it would evoke howls of protest from the other beneficiaries of this funding stream) that one wonders if the duo are not indulging in the gentle art of sabotage.

But, it seems the problem is not only where the money is going to come from, but how much. Although the commission is talking about needing another €2.4 billion Steinbrueck is questioning the price tag, sharing the scepticism that the commission has got its sums right.

So, the commission is now left with the European Council on 19 October, which will tie in with the IGC in Lisbon, when it will be attempting to convince the heads of states and governments to give the go-ahead.

Even if this does not happen though, there is the "secret weapon" that no one is talking about. If the treaty is approved at the IGC – and then eventually ratified – the commission will have its space policy and will be able formalise its Sapce Council. Then it can fund Galileo as of right, from the EU budget.

This may mean a little bit more delay but, as they keep telling us, all good things come to those who wait.


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