This news could barely come at a worse time. Just as the first Sentinels will be completed and ready to be launched there will be no funding to operate them and deliver GMES products. Many services have reached already a significant level of maturity based on existing satellites or contributing missions . Continuity to the Users is of key importance.
What will happen to these satellites and all the investment that has gone into them and the services? Will Member States pick up the bill? It would seem unlikely. It seems more likely that they will be moth-balled until the funding is sorted out; but when could this be?
The main argument of the European Commission is that the EU budget cannot tolerate the uncertainty in funding needs which has been the case with Galileo and is even more so with ITER. Consequently, Member States should carry the financial risk by funding GMES outside the MFF. But essentially this is what has already happened up to now. The risk element of space programme comes with developing new technology and new satellites. The Sentinel funding (some €3b for this generation of satellites) has been made through ESA by its Member States and significant investments made into preparing the services.
From 2014 onwards, the EU budget would be funding the operations of the Sentinels (including repeat satellite purchase), the purchase of data from contributing missions (mostly MS investments), the in-situ elements and the downstream services. This contains no risk and there can be full confidence that the proposed €845m pa is a ceiling cost and that the operations and services, as well as future infrastructure, can be scaled to fit within it.
The arguments for funding GMES out of the Community budget to me seem overpowering since it is clearly a programme that offers benefits to Europe as a whole. The information from GMES will inform at all levels of administration (local, regional, national, European, global). It will enforce the implementation of European Regulations (environmental and others). It will provide European treaty negotiators with access to independent validation information without which they will be dependent on that coming from those across the table with whom they negotiate. It will provide local administrations information on the extent of flood risk or actual flood events. It will provide many other types of information be it for fisheries, disasters, natural resources, health, environment, climate or other policies whether to serve the Spaniard in Bilbao or the Slovak in Nitra.
GMES will also be a source of innovation and economic benefits. The geo-spatial sector is growing at around 10% per annum and is a strong lever towards innovative services; many delivered through smartphones, tablet pc’s and other new consumer platforms. Convergence between maps, street images and location based services becomes more apparent every day. GMES has promised to be a stimulus for industry not just in the provision of governmental services but also increasingly into the private sector. Furthermore, the services industry has already been investing in new services but this cannot continue whilst there is uncertainty as to whether data will become available or that the governmental market will develop.
As we described in our July position paper just after the news broke, whether GMES is now financed inside the MFF or not, the uncertainty created will undermine the uptake of these services which industry has been preparing over the last 5 years and more. Users expect and need sustainability. This alone places a question-mark over the future market. Thus we need to act rapidly to ensure that users convince policy makers that GMES is deserving of Community funding. That without it many public services will go un-developed. That the policies and operations of many of our European agencies (EEA, EMSA, Frontex etc ) are placed in jeopardy or else will cost more. Whilst for our sector a good business opportunity will be lost, the greater loss will be for the public sector users who could have access to timely and effective geo-spatial information. Over the next few months, we need to work together with our clients to explain to the European decision makers why GMES is critical to their mission.
It will be a long battle, but one we should win for user organisations, public and commercial customers, our industry and for Europe.
EARSC Secretary General