Interview

Reading time: about 8 minutes.


Interview with Reinhard Schulte-Braucks Head of Unit G4 (GMES), European Commission

As the newly appointed Head of Unit for GMES, could you briefly explain what GMES is all about?

As I’m sure you know, there are two European Flagship Programmes for space, Galileo and GMES. GMES stands for ‘Global Monitoring for Environment and Security’ and is a long-term Earth Observation (EO) programme jointly undertaken by the European Commission, the Member States, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the European Environment Agency (EEA). GMES aims at providing continuous and reliable information about the state of the environment to European policy makers, the business community and to the general public. GMES consists of three components:
(i) a satellite constellation for the collection of EO data from space,
(ii) an earth-based observation infrastructure (ground-based, airborne and ship- or buoy-based sensors) and
(iii) a network of services which will deliver EO information relevant to six different domains (Atmosphere, Climate Change, Land Monitoring, Emergency Management, Marine and Security).

Could you briefly explain your daily activities in the GMES Unit and the liaison with other programmes, Units and Directorates?

My Unit is working on achieving the transition of GMES from a set of preparatory activities based mainly on R&D funding to a sustained and user-driven set of operational services. GMES has already progressed from a mere notion through numerous research projects to a more sustained operational programme. Indeed, today two GMES services are already operational. The GMES Unit is responsible for enabling and coordinating that development path.

This implies that we have to liaise with representatives from different user communities, listen to their needs, develop a policy and consult with various other parts of the European Commission. Of course we also deal with the budget issues and our aim is to establish services that deliver the information needed by the user communities when and where it is most needed. We should not forget that we are working for European citizens and that is why we are giving ordinary citizens an opportunity to see what GMES is all about by contributing to the European Space Expo exhibition, which is currently touring various European venues.

As a coordination unit, we develop our policies in close relation with the other units in our Directorate-General (DG), notably the Aerospace, Maritime, Security and Defence Industries Unit, and also with other DG’s. As an example, the new Emergency Management Service has been established in close collaboration with the Joint Research Centre (JRC) and the DG for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (DG ECHO).

Can you comment on the evolution of GMES and the latest EC communication?

As I said before, GMES has moved from research to operations with the implementation of the GMES Initial Operations (GIO) in the period 2011-2013;
two services are now operational,
(1) the Land monitoring service for which the EEA ensures the technical coordination and
(2) the Emergency Management Service. Other pre-operational services continue to be financed by the EU’s 7th Framework Programme (FP7) funding, for example monitoring the marine environment (MyOcean2) and atmosphere monitoring (MACC-II)

The Commission believe that GMES is so important that it warrants special budgetary provisions. This is why the proposal was made to finance it from a fund outside the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF). We will require large investments over a long period to further develop the GMES space infrastructure, and, when taken together with the large budget foreseen for Galileo, this could be very problematic to achieve within the constraints of the MFF.

The Commission believe that GMES is so important that it warrants special budgetary provisions. This is why the proposal was made to finance it from a fund outside the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF). We will require large investments over a long period to further develop the GMES space infrastructure, and, when taken together with the large budget foreseen for Galileo, this could be very problematic to achieve within the constraints of the MFF.

At the present time we are awaiting a decision on funding by the Member States in the Council and the elected representatives in the Parliament. This does not mean that we have stopped working, of course, as the Commission remains committed to preparing the necessary regulations on GMES operations in a timely manner, in order to avoid any disruption of the programme schedule caused by the funding debate.

What is your idea for the governance scheme and the related business model to be adopted?

One of the keys to success for the operational GMES services is to have an appropriate governance and robust business model. The business model for us is very clear. GMES will provide free and open information and in that sense it will trigger business initiatives.

In order to stimulate business development, we also need to create awareness about the programme and its potential benefits. This is why we developed the GMES Masters competition and this was also a motivation for us, together with the UK Space Agency, to organise the Space Solutions Days planned for London in December 2012.

The full, open and free data policy should allow businesses to exploit the market opportunities offered by GMES. Then it is up to industry to be entrepreneurial and translate the data into their business models. It is precisely here where EARSC has an important role to play by identifying business opportunities in order to further develop the downstream market.

What do you look for in cooperative efforts between European Institutions and Industry and in particular the GMES Unit and industry?

The GMES Unit is part of DG Enterprise and Industry, so the link with industry is strong. The focus of DG ENTR right now is to stimulate growth and employment and we are embracing that aim in our objectives.

The Earth Observation industry is made up of distinct segments. We should distinguish between the upstream sector, which includes space-based and earth-based infrastructure and data providers, and the downstream sector, which consists of the many services and market products that can be developed thanks to the availability of continuous and accurate EO information. In between, we have the midstream sector represented by those operators that exploit space-based and earth-based systems to produce and sell EO data. The GMES Unit has relations with representatives from all three sectors. Studies show that midstream and downstream can be eight times bigger than upstream. So there is a multiplication effect on the investments in the upstream sector.

In 2012, DG-ENTR launched several initiatives to support the development of downstream services, in the framework of the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Programme (EIP). Some €2.5 million was made available through a call for proposals to support two demonstration projects at regional level, as well as the distribution of innovation vouchers for the development of innovative services relying on GMES information and GNSS signals (Galileo/EGNOS). This approach focuses on finding solutions and systematically creating entrepreneurial opportunities for the wider use of innovative technologies, goods and services by involving a wide range of stakeholders, industries and technologies. As a result, new skills may be shaped in the regions, leading to competitive advantages offering global market opportunities.

How could cooperation on space research be better integrated for the development of EU industry?

The Commission has financed through the FP7 programme the GMES Academy whose role it is to bridge EO-research with EO-industry. The Academy was launched in Salzburg, in September 2012. In order to facilitate the bridging, research sheets have been prepared on all projects oriented towards the business developers and will be made available through the GMES Academy website.

The Commission has proposed an ambitious programme for research and innovation (Horizon 2020), which will give a strong boost to the competitiveness and technological leadership of our industry. Horizon 2020, starting in 2014, will continue to fund space research projects at an enhanced level, with a focus on research and innovation, providing opportunities to top European scientists and engineers, and preparing the ground for next generation space systems. Within the next Multi-Annual Financial Framework (2014-2020) the EU proposes to invest €1.7 billion in space research and innovation.

What measures will be taken to ensure that there is adequate funding to maintain GMES operational activities and what do you see as the next steps for GMES?

I have described the current funding debate above. At this stage there is no reason to assume that GMES is under threat. As I mentioned before, the Commission clearly indicated in its budget proposals the importance of GMES, and hence we are committed to agreeing a solution for long-term funding.

While the Sentinel satellites are currently being developed specifically for the needs of the programme, the various GMES Contributing Missions are already providing a wealth of data for the services. There is no reason for the downstream sector to have to wait – it should already be proactive and look for business opportunities secure in the knowledge that the provision of long-term sustained services is being tackled by the Commission with its utmost conviction.

The first dedicated satellite, Sentinel 1A, should be ready for launch in October 2013. The Commission has always expressed itself in favour of the timely launch of Sentinel 1A as it will preserve the current launch schedule, avoid overruns and minimise the risk of discontinuity. The available budgets from FP7 and GIO allow the funding of planned activities until well into 2014. So, there is no reason to suppose that there will be any discontinuities. We are still on track!

So, you’re optimistic about the future?

“Optimism is a moral duty”, as Karl Popper once said, but there is indeed reason to be optimistic. Over the period 2014-2030, GMES is expected to lead to benefits estimated to be between 4 and 10 times bigger than the amounts invested. A huge number of applications are already developing, from such areas as better urban planning for housing, for public transport development, to finding best renewable energy sites, predicting pollution and implementing mitigation measures, etc. GMES is a unique programme which has huge potential for businesses and citizens alike. The European Union will be the first and perhaps the only organisation to have such a complete monitoring system and such a comprehensive set of operational services.

Dr. Reinhard SCHULTE-BRAUCKS joined the European Commission in 1981. He worked in a number of areas such as anti-trust, completion of the internal market, enterprise policy and space research.
In June 2012 he took up his present position as head of the GMES Unit in the Commission’s Enterprise and Industry Directorate-General. He is responsible for the development of the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security system (GMES). The latter consists of a space component as well as satellite based services in the areas of land observation, emergency, oceanography, atmosphere, international security and climate change monitoring.

Images provided by GMES Bureau