“The command and appropriate use of information has important geo-strategic implications,“ said Heinz Zourek, Director-General of the Commission’s Enterprise and Industry Directorate-General, “and Europe needs to have available a capacity which allows it independently to evaluate its policy responses in a reliable and timely manner. A comprehensive Earth observing system, using space-borne and in situ techniques on land, in the air and at sea, through well-defined operational services, is key to ensuring the implementation and monitoring of environmental and security policies in the context of sustainable development.”
According to Zourek, GMES will answer essential questions, such as:
* How efficient is EU land use?
* How attractive is our living environment, for both residents and investors?
* How secure are our resources, i.e. crops, fish stocks, water and energy?
* What is the risk of natural or human-made disasters and are we prepared?
* What are the real impacts of our political decisions, in agriculture, infrastructures and spatial planning?
* What our alternatives?
A wide-ranging agenda
The Graz GMES conference, attended by over 200 participants, tackled a number of pressing issues still to be resolved before GMES gets off the ground. Sessions covered important topics, including:
* The European and International Context of GMES;
* The current and future GMES market;
* Creating a market in Europe;
* Public and private demand;
* The role of the regions;
* The characteristics of the security market;
* GMES value for money;
* The role of governance in organising user needs.
One clear message was the confirmation of GMES as the most important space application programme of the coming years. Continuity was assured concerning its high place on the political agenda of the Austrian Presidency up to at least the German Presidency in 2007.
The role of the European Commission in federating users was also confirmed. User communities must be organised, as are the weather service user communities today, starting with the three ‘fast track’ services – emergency response, land monitoring and marine services – but including others in the longer term.
Crucially, EU funding under the upcoming Seventh Research Framework Programme (FP7) is considered insufficient. Funding under other user Directorate-General budgets will also have to be explored. A specific funding line for the GMES space infrastructure is also now requested by some conference participants and the national capacities of Member States must be factored in.
Investment remains key
Attending the conference were officials from both public (EUMETSAT, OECD, GEOSS) and private organisations. The European Association of Remote Sensing Companies was well represented. With 70 members, most of whom are SMEs, it makes up a full 50% of the Earth Observation (EO) community.
Most agreed that investment in GMES is not just about money, but must include ideas and education. While big players in the USA such as Google and Microsoft have added to the broad awareness of the possibilities of EO, the question remains as to how much the average European knows about the GMES initiative.
A final thematic session focused on the draft report of the GMES Advisory Council Working Group on future structure and governance, highlighting GMES’ political dimension.
Moving forward now
“We are all convinced that GMES is indispensable for both the pursuance of European competitiveness in fulfilment of the Lisbon goals and to accomplish our policies with regard to a responsible management of the planets limited resources,” said Zourek.
“Pooling our resources would make the service providing industry much more robust with advantages for both the users, who benefit from increased continuity, standardised formats and lower prices, and for industry itself, becoming stronger thanks to the growing world market for information products.”
Speaking at a major press conference that followed the event, European Commission Vice-President Günter Verheugen placed GMES users at the forefront. “Space manufacturers have done a great job developing the technologies required for GMES,” he said. “The focus now moves to users. What are their real needs? Can we meet them with GMES services? And, in the long-term, will services be sustained by operating budgets, rather than the research budgets now being used?”