Firstly, in the last couple of years you have been very active in supporting the European Flagship programmes Copernicus and Galileo among Members of the European Parliament (for which we are very grateful), what do you find particularly motivating about the space domain?
Its potential to improve normal people’s everyday lives, while often going beyond imagination in terms of technology and physics. The space domain represents an area where boundaries can still be pushed much further. We should do this in an intelligent way, in order to keep our economy competitive. Our concentration on the two flagship programs Galileo and Copernicus fits well in this approach.
Our community follows Galileo but is especially engaged with Copernicus, where do you see the most tangible results and benefits that the Copernicus programme brings to the European Union?
For me, the best possible result would be the involvement of many new companies of different forms and sizes that provide EO-enabled digital services to the public. Copernicus offers a great opportunity to SME’s and start-ups to be active in the space domain, something that was often reserved for larger players before. This development is not only profitable for our economy but it also improves the lives of consumers, who can benefit from better services. Also our public sector and European research institutions are obvious beneficiaries, because EO-data provides a wealth of information on which research and new policy may be based. Accordingly, Copernicus can contribute to solving large societal problem, for instance through CO2-monitoring. Because of Copernicus, Europe is a frontrunner on Earth Observation. This is particularly beneficial comsidering that we are only a moderate space-power compared to actors like the United States, China and Russia.
You mentioned several times the need for a strong communication strategy around the benefits of space data and applications. In your opinion, what should be done to better promote satellite applications and EO services in particular to the EU citizens?
This is not something that is easily done. We can only make a difference if everyone involved participates in communicating the benefits of satellite applications and space in general. So we should not just publish a tender for publicity agencies and then think we have solved the problem, but we should also be involved ourselves. Not only all involved politicians, but also space researchers, entrepreneurs and students. We live in an era of breaking silos, also when it comes to space. I myself try to inform people about space as much as I can in as many different ways as possible.
The EC has recently published the Space Strategy for Europe. Can you give us your perspective on this document and what you would consider a priority?
The space strategy is a good start, as it deals with the most important space policy issues for Europe. For me it was particularly important that it would advocate a strong role for the private sector, with clearly defined boundaries for public sector involvement. In this respect, I am happy with the Commission’s contribution. The strategy is also convincing when it comes to support for the current flagship programs Copernicus and Galileo and the intention to create cloud platforms for disseminating EO data. Our main priority should be to ensure a broad majority support for this strategy in the European Parliament. Once that is achieved we can focus on allocating the budgets in order to actually realise the plans.
The European Parliament will now react to the space strategy proposals, what should we expect as an outcome and how important should be the involvement of the EO industry?
As outlined above, the European Parliament should encourage the Commission to actually implement the strategy as quick as possible. In convincing both my colleagues and society as a whole that earth observation is of vital importance for our future, we need all the help from industry that we can get. Be good, tell it and sell it!
The strategy claims for a wider use of space data in numerous EU policies and key political priorities, how will the various EP Committees be involved in the process?
There will be several committees giving an Opinion to Parliament’s report on the space strategy that will be written in the Industry Committee (ITRE). This also includes committees that were previously never involved in space, such as the Fisheries Committee (PECH). Also the Transport Committee (TRAN), the Defence Committee (SEDE) and possibly the Environment Committee (ENVI) will write official opinions. This is a good start in showing the broad importance of space and involving more colleagues.
In your opinion, what will be the best mechanism to build a strong private-sector partnership with European research institutions to maximise Europe’s potential whilst avoiding unnecessary competition between private and public entities?
We should focus on where we can all act together in a triple helix approach: the private sector, research institutions and the public sector. We need to align all three in order to make it work, this is something I experienced when I was involved in setting up ‘Brainport Eindhoven’, a high-tech innovation partnership in the south of The Netherlands. To make such a partnership in space work, it is important that all actors share objectives and engage in cooperation with an open mind. Only then can we develop the innovation ecosystem that we need for space in Europe.
Turning to the question of the relationship between the private sector and the European Parliament, how do you see this dialogue mechanism and what specifically should be covered? Can the dialogue between EP and service industry be improved and if so how?
My doors are always open to anyone who wants to speak about the policy areas I am involved in. From the space sector there is already considerable interest to engage in such discussions, during which usually a large number of different perspectives and interests are presented. That is also the case with a number of colleagues that are very active on space policies. What we need to get broader attention is more cross-overs. Participation from space industry in debates about the digital single market, connectivity, precision agriculture etc. Get involved in debates in other sectors.
At the end of the interview, there is the opportunity for your final thoughts and how your activities could contribute to the future development of the EO geo-information service sector in Europe?
I will remain involved in space policy matters and I will make sure that I keep in touch with as many stakeholders as possible. As liberal shadow-rapporteur on the Space Strategy for Europe, I will do my best to safeguard a strong position for the private sector in space. I will also closely monitor the Commission’s actions in the field of the dissemination of EO data on platforms. However, the most important contribution that I can make is staying in touch with my constituency about space and encourage other politicians to do so as well. I’ve got space under my skin!
Cora van Nieuwenhuizen MEP (1963) was elected to the European Parliament in 2014 on behalf of the Dutch liberal party VVD. She is a member of the parliamentary committees ECON (Economic and Monetary Affairs) and ITRE (Industry, Research and Energy). Moreover, Ms. Van Nieuwenhuizen is the Vice-chair of Parliament’s Delegation for relations with India, a Member of the Science and Technology Options Assessment (STOA) Panel of the European Parliament and a member of the Board of the Knowledge4Innovation Forum.
Apart from space policy, Ms. Van Nieuwenhuizen predominantly works on financial services regulation, FinTech and the Digital Single Market.
Thank you in advance for the elements of contribution to the Interview and for sharing your thoughts and comments with the EOmag readers