The creation of the Competitiveness Council in June 2002 was a response to the perceived need for a more coherent and better-coordinated handling of matters related to EU competitiveness. Depending on the items on the agenda, the Council is composed of European Affairs Ministers, Industry Ministers, Research Ministers, etc.
The overarching question addressed by ministers in Graz was how the European Union can best meet the challenges of an increasingly competitive global marketplace. European Commission Vice President Günter Verheugen insisted on the importance of space for meeting the EU’s Lisbon objectives, pointing to the need for a comprehensive approach, including community building, co-operation and coordination.
After thanking the Austrian Presidency for its inclusion of GMES in its Graz dialogue, he said, “GMES is the second space flagship of the European Union, after GALILEO. It will be a major priority under FP7 and we are now pushing for a specific budget line for space infrastructure in the new financial perspectives. We are making good progress on the preparation of a European Space Policy and we expect strong support from the upcoming German Presidency.”
In February 2004, the European Commission adopted a GMES action plan (2004-2008), outlining steps towards the establishment of a system that will harness, coordinate and enhance existing Earth Observation (EO) and monitoring information from satellites and Earth-based and air- and waterborne sensors, in order to support better decision-making for the environment and security. The aim of the initiative is to provide independent, cost-effective, and user-friendly services that can help to anticipate or address crises, such as forest fires or floods, and lead to better management of issues ranging from the protection of the environment to combating illegal immigration.
The Graz Competitiveness Council agreed that concrete policies and measures at both European and Member State level are still needed to ensure the attainment of Europe’s strategic goals in space, including with respect to the GMES initiative.
Role for regions
Austrian Vice Chancellor Hubert Gorbach stressed the importance of the GMES initiative as an integral part of the European space programme. “The GMES conference which has just taken place here in Graz highlighted the question of identifying and developing markets for GMES,” he said. “We know that these markets will depend much on the public sector. In this context, the roles and needs of the European regions will be of key importance with regard to GMES services, including transport, crisis management and environmental services.”
The EU Competitiveness Council has been a strong supporter of the emerging European Space Policy, including the ongoing strengthening of ties between the European Commission and the European Space Agency. With its important debate in Graz on the GMES initiative, the Council has now reaffirmed its commitment to one of Europe’s primary space projects, placing it high on the agenda of European economic competitiveness.