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Interview with Paul Weissenberg "Any steps forward in the European construction require patience and pragmatism. I am confident of succeeding in our enterprise"

In this issue of EOMAG, EARSC will have the opportunity to feature an interview with Mr Paul Weissenberg, Director in DG Enterprise and Industry at the European Commission


Why has been decided the Lille Forum as a networking platform to present the new brand name for GMES “KOPERNIKUS”?

As we are all aware GMES is celebrating this year its tenth anniversary. I do not know if this represents the age of reason. However, what I know is that GMES has reached such a level development that it is currently at a crossroad. The consensus among interested parties is that GMES must now leave the research phase to move towards the operational stage by delivering sustainable services based on a well-coordinated and fully reliable Earth Observation system.

To mark this move to a new era the Commission considered that a new name should be adopted. The Lille Forum on GMES organised by the French Presidency last September was a timely opportunity to launch KOPERNIKUS.

How the European Commission is treating the communication aspects of KOPERNIKUS? Is there now a need of branding the new name among stakeholders?

I believe that it is clear to everyone that substituting GMES with KOPERNIKUS is much more than a matter of pure branding. Nevertheless, names play an important role in terms of perception. Something complex such as the global monitoring for environment and security is made easier to identify through a symbolic name.

The purpose of KOPERNIKUS is to go beyond what the acronym GMES implied so far. Ensuring both the preservation of environment and security of European citizens will obviously continue to be a matter of concern. Thanks to KOPERNIKUS we would like to add something tangible which speaks to everybody including remote sensing companies.

In our view, KOPERNIKUS must become as familiar as GALILEO is to a layman. To achieve this, the Commission will develop in the coming weeks appropriate external communication campaigns to increase the awareness of the initiative. It will also take every opportunity to promote KOPERNIKUS with the help of media. To illustrate this change, a specific logo has been elaborated.


What are your thoughts on the following KOPERNIKUS pillars? a.European public interest service for environment and security-related information? b.European public undertaking?c.for a buy its users? d.a European contribution to an international effort?

The Commission is preparing a Communication, which will set out its views on the future governance structure of KOPERNIKUS. More generally, the Commission intends to propose a specific European Programme taking the form of a legal instrument including both institutional and financial components.

Indeed, KOPERNIKUS is mainly a service provider delivering information based on Earth Observation. The services provided must meet the end-users needs since KOPERNIKUS is clearly a system driven by public demand. Of course, users will only be willing to use KOPERNIKUS services if they have the guaranty that the required information will be provided in the long run. User representatives have been involved since the beginning of this undertaking; this should be maintained and even increased in the future.

The data it provides are a public good. As a common good this information must be available free of charge to anybody regardless of its public or private nature who wants to use it. A return to investment can be expected through the creation of a large downstream service industry, which will flourish provided a steady state is attained with the availability of KOPERNIKUS data on a sustainable basis.

In essence, KOPERNIKUS infrastructures are owned either by European or national entities with their respective political and financial responsibility. KOPERNIKUS requires a partnership unlike GALILEO. As a result, a networking approach is necessary.

Although it might seem paradoxical at first sight, autonomy of knowledge requires international cooperation. Some KOPERNIKUS services rely on infrastructures that are located outside the European territory. To avoid the risk of loosing access to relevant information international cooperation should be established. At the same time, KOPERNIKUS’ infrastructure or general information may be made available to international endeavours such as, for example, in the frame of Climate Change. International cooperation can be established on bilateral dialogues or on multilateral initiatives as, for instance to the GEO process (Group of Earth Observation) or GEOSS (Global Earth Observation System) where the Commission could play a key role.

What kind of cooperative efforts between European Institutions and Industry will bring KOPERNIKUS? What type of dialogue mechanism could take place with the service industry?

KOPERNIKUS is a true partnership and requires the involvement of many actors. But as the overall endeavour depends on the contribution of each individual member, there is a need to formalise this partnership and the commitments of its members.

The role of the EU should go beyond its traditional role of implementation. That is why, in my view, the Commission should also ensure the overall coordination of partners at national and European levels.

The dialogue with industry is a prerequisite to ensure that KOPERNIKUS services and observation infrastructure respond to the needs of identified users. This condition is fundamental in order to ensure that the EU responds to public needs and that the sector industry is involved in a fruitful market with a lot of opportunities for downstream applications.

What is your idea for the KOPERNIKUS governance scheme?

In our view, the Commission should take the lead in this domain to make a decisive step forward and make KOPERNIKUS a reality. The Commission should ensure the overall coordination of partners at national and European levels.

Without prejudging the final decision of the Commission on KOPERNIKUS our intention is to propose that the Commission have the central programming responsibility as a Management authority. The Commission would be assisted by a Steering Body of Member States for its coordination tasks as well as a Programme Committee for the budget implementation.

In our view the ESA should act as a development and supplier agency. It should focus its activities on the overall coordination of the Space domain. EUMETSAT (the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites) could be involved in the observation of both the atmosphere and the oceans. Regarding in situ namely, air-, sea- and land-based infrastructures the European Environment Agency would be an excellent candidate for the consolidation of different partners input.

Public investment is crucial for SMEs so that investments already made by industry are secured that can be ready for competition. What are the biggest challenges the commercial Earth Observation Industry is facing in the coming years?What kind of downstream service industry would Europe benefit from?

Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) are at the heart of Europe’s economy. Creating more new firms and nurturing them is essential if Europe is to maintain its competitive position in the global economy and continue to make sure that its citizens benefit from an ever-improving quality of life. This is a credo within the Commission. Of course, this applies to any industrial sector including SMEs operating in the space domain, particularly companies dealing with remote sensing, which, I understand, represent approximately 65 % of your members.

Earth Observation SMEs are used to coping with many challenges. Provided KOPERNIKUS is on the right tracks, benefits for SMEs, in particular for the service providers’ sector are expected thanks to the availability of products provided by the KOPERNIKUS Core Services and by maintenance of the operational infrastructure, both financed by public funds. Moreover, any sector oriented action is likely to be supported by the Small Business Act, recently proposed by the Commission.


What will be the budget envelope and budget breakdown for the downstream services call?

KOPERNIKUS is a shared and distributed system. Consequently, it is and should continue to be co-financed at European, intergovernmental and national levels.

The EU contributes to its development through the 7th Framework Programme for Research and Development where 1.2 billion € is foreseen for KOPERNIKUS. Roughly 35% of this amount are planned for the development of services (core and downstream).

While the first call had foreseen financing for the continued development of core services, the current call (that will last until early December) concentrates on downstream market by investing some 30 to 35 million € in this activity. Additional financing to support development activities for both core services and the downstream sector are foreseen for next calls.

We also need to establish an operational budget line which will bridge the gap between the end of the preparatory action ending 2010 and the new financial perspectives. This will be essential for the continuity of KOPERNIKUS services which have mainly been to date co-financed by research funds.

Is the new downstream services call broad enough to support the launch of KOPERNIKUS operationality?

At Community level, KOPERNIKUS has been and still is funded through R&D Framework Programmes. The launch of the KOPERNIKUS operationality needs the specific EU funding that do not exist so far.

Given that “Operational services need operational budget” what is the corresponding planning and budgeting process?Is KOPERNIKUS now on the right track of funding?

Moving into a fully operational system means that services have to be provided on a daily basis and therefore KOPERNIKUS can no longer be funded solely as a research project. It is therefore essential that in due course an overall financing strategy is established providing for specific allocations to the services (both core and downstream), space and in situ components of KOPERNIKUS from the European Union and Member State sources.

The cost of KOPERNIKUS over time will depend on the scope of the services to be delivered, on the required observation infrastructure to be set up and on the degree of international cooperation, particularly the involvement of the EU Member States. KOPERNIKUS needs its proper funding and an appropriate structure at European level if it is to live up the challenge.

What are the minimum requirements to succeed with a downstream service?

Thanks to KOPERNIKUS, the EU offers tremendous opportunities for the downstream market: the availability of free information through KOPERNIKUS core services as well as the guarantee of a long term observation infrastructure are favourable conditions for a downstream market.

Downstream service providers are expected to be the layer filling the gap between multi purpose products generated by core services and the specific needs that could be identified by specific user communities or regional authorities. Given the vast range of applications, a flourishing market with a lot of opportunities will come up.


In the light of the latest KOPERNIKUS developments what will be the task ahead? What is your vision of the future? How do you see the future steps for KOPERNIKUS? How do you see Europe’s autonomy in space in the coming years?

Any steps forward in the European construction require patience and pragmatism. I am confident of succeeding in our enterprise. KOPERNIKUS will reach a steady state sooner or latter.

Europe needs an effective space policy to enable it to exert global leadership in selected policy areas in accordance with European interests and values. To fulfil such roles the EU increasingly relies on autonomous decision-making, on space-based and communication systems.

Regarding the future stages of KOPERNIKUS, the finalisation of the legal instrument I mentioned earlier is in preparation. This will take the form of concrete proposals on the ways and means to set up the long term governance of KOPERNIKUS, its financial sustainability, the unrestricted access to the data and the international cooperation. It will be a tangible signal of the Commission’s commitment to a wide EU audience.

What are your expectations of Earth Observation development in the future for citizens?Which important benefits will be provided in the near future?

European citizens are often complaining about Europe and Brussels that in their view seem to be too remote from their daily reality.

At the Lille Forum we have had the opportunity to see a demonstration of the huge capabilities of products derived from Earth Observation core services in the fields of emergency response, land management and marine management that are currently at a pre-operational stage. The technical validation of these services at the operational level is at a final stage following which a plethora of service applications will be available.

For instance, citizens will soon have access to continuous flood forecast information based on satellite radar imagery directly from their home computer, thanks to KOPERNIKUS. This will change people’s life in areas that are frequently subject to flooding. This will not only benefit European residents but will also be available to those who are unfortunately living in places where natural disasters are a recurrent phenomenon. KOPERNIKUS would thus provide an effective instrument in support humanitarian aide.

Other examples such as air quality monitoring, measurement of UV radiation, extreme weather events forecasting or water quality assessment clearly demonstrate that KOPERNIKUS is directly linked to our day-life.

Mr. Weissenberg, thank you very much for your time, and for sharing your thoughts and comments with the EOmag readers