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Editorial Autumn 2013

The EC has recently published its proposals for a Copernicus Regulation and a Delegated Act. The former sets out the conditions for the Copernicus programme whilst the Delegated Act defines the data and information policy. Both documents are being discussed in the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament with a view to having agreement by the end of the year. Naturally, given the importance of the programme and the legislation, EARSC has views on the Copernicus Regulation linked to a number of points which we are promoting.

The passage of the two documents will differ. Without going into too much detail, the Regulation will be modified according to the views of the three institutional bodies until there is full agreement on a final text whilst the Delegated Act can only be rejected by either Council or Parliament. If it is not rejected, it is accepted. No changes are possible. It is also linked to the GMES legislation and hence will need to be revised or re-adopted later.

For this reason, EARSC is focusing its attention mainly on the Regulation since if it was decided to change or adapt any part of the data and information policy, this can be done in the Regulation and as the newer legislation it will take precedence.

I, on behalf of EARSC and the EO services industry, have promoted the adoption of the free and open data policy. This view was expressed in various EARSC position papers since 2009 right through to February this year. I also conducted the study into the benefits of such a policy now commonly referred to as the Geese and Golden Eggs. In the report we noted that there would be some companies adversely affected by such a policy since there would certainly be some customers which would prefer to have free data than choose to pay for slightly better data. Hence operators such as RapidEye, Deimos and DMCii which are operating satellites delivering imagery close in performance to Sentinel 2 will lose business. The key question is how much business they will lose and if the overall market growth – which we believe will be stimulated by Copernicus – will outweigh the loss.

No-one can know; today just as no-one can know how much new business will be developed by VA operators as a result of free and open access to the Sentinel data. It is a matter of beliefs.

What I personally believe, and believe to have shown, is that giving access to free and open data is the right policy. Our study follows a lot of other work which has been done on the question of PSI re-use. The results show that access to free data helps drive new businesses much more than if data is charged for. This seems very evident. Furthermore, if we as taxpayers have already paid once for the data why should we pay for it a second time? Provided the benefits are widely shared then there seems no justification to implement a charging policy which generally has shown to be counter-productive; hindering the use and take-up of data whilst costing governments to put in place charging and accounting systems.

Nevertheless, we believe that there is also a need to protect private sector investments and encourage further investments in the future. This follows a commercialisation policy which is supported by EARSC and many governments. So it seems that what we are discussing today is not really the issue of a free and open data policy. Global trends and economic analysis are overwhelmingly and inexorably leading us in this direction. No, it is about the conditions under which a free and open data policy should be applied. In the language of those dealing with PSI re-use it is about what is a core government task; ie a task which must be performed using public resources rather than using private resources.

Here we know that opinions differ through Europe. I was involved in Galileo in the early 2000’s when we were fiercely discussing and trying to find a PPP (public-private partnership) which would work. We saw opinion sharply divided between those who thought it could and others who said but the GPS signal is free, how can we find a paying model for Galileo? With hindsight the conditions were wrong to implement that policy, opinion was too divided, and the fact that it was tried set back the Galileo programme several years. I am convinced this is one reason why we are now coming at Copernicus from the other direction. The experience of Galileo has undoubtedly shaped Copernicus to become fundamentally a government programme.

A short aside here; I said in a recent meeting that one of the goals in creating GMES was to improve the use of European resources and particularly budgets. The aim was to reduce duplication and increase spending efficiency at a European scale. I noted that I feel that Europe as a whole has not done a bad job and that the construct of Copernicus, with its mix of government funded data (from the Sentinels) and privately funded (from the contributing missions), goes some way towards achieving this aim. The decision makers in ESA and the EC should be congratulated for the progress in this very difficult area – but which is not to say that we cannot achieve more.

Hence, as a public programme, the data coming from Copernicus Sentinel satellites should be free and open. Yet some say, that may be fine for those who have paid for it but why give it away free to other nations that have not? Whilst industry is in agreement for the first point, there is less agreement on the second one. Here I return to the finding that charging systems are rarely efficient and that the benefits of giving it away free will allow European industry to develop business as a result. If countries globally are using Sentinel data and experiencing first-hand the quality of products that it can provoke, will that not also provide a strong lever for European companies to do business – even those selling data?
But I also believe, as I have already said, in a policy of commercialisation. Mobilising private resources when possible and saving public funds for more essential public tasks seems to me to be good policy. Hence, as EARSC, we are calling for a review of the public and private roles in the future. Who should do what? Which side of the public – private divide should pay for future satellites and which ones – in particular with what resolution? Which organisations, public or private, should be delivering specific Copernicus services?

We are pushing to have this discussion as part of a wider review of an industrial policy for the EO services industry. As part of the Copernicus programme we should like to see an effective industrial policy. Hence our two key claims regarding the Copernicus regulation are:
1. A long-term, stable investment environment for EO services including a plan for the procurement of data from the contributing missions.
2. An industrial policy covering procurement of services, the role of the private sector in delivering Copernicus services and a plan to exploit the large volumes of data and information which shall result. This would include a review of the adopted data and information policy and its impact on economic growth covering the roles of all players in delivering services and investments in the future.

But whilst these points are very important for the EO services industry in the immediate future, in the medium term we need to find the right relationship for future programmes and future investments. For this we need a sound policy and a good understanding of the respective public and private sector roles. We need to understand the market and what drivers can best deliver results in terms of economic benefits resulting both from growth in the EO services industry and the application of EO products for both public and private sector customers. I think we can have a really interesting and fruitful discussion around this subject over the next few years.

Geoff Sawyer
EARSC Secretary General

Photo Credits MLahousse-EPPGroup
EARSC views on the Copernicus Regulation