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Interview with Dr. Michel Verbauwhede, ESA – GMES programme Office (Brussels)

GMES offers an enormous opportunity for industry, and ESA needs
the support of the servicing industry: besides some core services, GMES
will deliver a wealth of data that can be further used by industry to
develop additional value-added services.

GMES offers an enormous opportunity for industry, and ESA needs
the support of the servicing industry: besides some core services, GMES
will deliver a wealth of data that can be further used by industry to
develop additional value-added services.

Whereas many questions are still open
regarding the financial engagements from Member States and from EC,
there is a danger that everybody watches everybody else, and the more
we wait the more data gaps we will have. This would be very detrimental
to the user confidence we manage to build over the last years regarding
GMES services.

The most important thing today is that ESA needs industry to
consolidate the GMES dossier and convince all our Members States to
proceed and the second thing is to make sure we avoid worsened data
gaps: we should start the development of the GMES space component as
soon as possible!”

Which is the added value for ESA to have an office in Brussels?

In Mr Dordain’s Agenda 2007, a close
relation with the European Union is essential, not only at high level
for strategic discussions, but also on a ‘day to day basis’: our office
in Brussels is a sort of “ESA embassy to the European Institutions”, or
more modestly is the ‘face’ of ESA for staff of the European
institutions. We also represent ESA to all other space-interested
stakeholders present on the Brussels scene. . We offer local support to
all ESA staff on mission in Brussels and accompany them as required in
their contacts with the EU people.

How is the typical agenda of an ESA representative at this office in Brussels?

are two types of activities. Firstly, we are of course dealing with the
European institutions themselves: we have very regular meetings with
the Commission at all levels, ranging for example from technical
meetings with the GMES Programme Office, up to high-level institutional
meetings such as the Joint EC-ESA secretariat for space matters. We
also meet with European Parliament, COREPER, etc. And we digest the
available information from the Union to the benefit of the Director
General and of ESA staff, most probably like most of other
representation offices in Brussels do. Secondly, we take the advantage
of having many groups and institutions represented in Brussels or
visiting the EU institutions, to meet with space stakeholders from over
all Europe, and even overseas. I can quote the example of the Space
Week during last February, which offered the opportunity to meet with
representatives of non European Space Agencies whom you could normally
not reach so easily together.

By the way, I invite the EARSC members,
when they have to meet with ESA, to think about using our office in
Brussels, as a convenient, easy to reach, meeting place!

Which is the model of cooperation set
out in the framework agreement between ESA and the European Community?
and in the EU treaty?

The Framework agreement is in force since
May 2004, for a period of four years, and can be further extended. It
is built on the idea that Commission represents the ‘user’ side for all
EC policies and that ESA can represent the offer when these user needs
can be matched by space developments.
The Commission has a privileged position to defend certain needs or
interests that cannot be so easily defended at the level of the Member
States. It is why it is important for ESA to have a good working
framework defined with the EC, on top of our well defined role to serve
the Member States, as laid in the ESA Convention.

Regarding GMES, ESA is now discussing
with the user communities and with EC since 1998 to try to reproduce
for the operational environmental and security monitoring more or less
what the user communities, EUMETSAT and ESA have achieved for space
operational meteorology.
Given the European dimension of the addressed problems and policies,
the principle of the Framework agreement can naturally apply: EC
represents the demand and ESA the space offer.

By proposing a shared competence on space
for the Union, the Constitutional Treaty would offer an even more
interesting ground for cooperation with the EU. It is clear however
that in absence of this new Treaty, the Community will continue, like
in the past – see for examples Vegetation on Spot-4, Galileo and the
space elements under FP 6 – to invest in space infrastructure and space
Again, this ratification of the Constitutional Treaty and the existence
of the EC-ESA Framework agreement are quite independent of each other.

During the last 30 years, Europe has
developed its presence in space, thanks to ambitious national policies
and the European Space Agency (ESA), how should industry understand the
actual partnership between the Commission and ESA?

When it comes to applications and to the
use of data, the servicing industry – like your EARSC members – should
be very happy about this partnership. If this partnership works, and we
of course all are working to that end, it will mean that more data and
more basic services can be used by industry to develop new markets. The
problem for industry to invest into services is the same as for users
entities to use these: can we guarantee tomorrow the sustainability of
the space monitoring systems and the availability of data? Again, the
model experienced for the space operational meteorology is a good one:
when developing a new operational system, EUMETSAT is planning for a
guaranteed lifetime of at least 15 years. This is quite a relaxing
environment for all people interested in developing services! Our goal
is to do the same for GMES, by a EU-ESA partnership that can be further
extended to other interested parties.

Now, we must be also clear that Member
States and EC will most probably reserve their available funding to the
deployment of the monitoring capacity and of some core services for
GMES, mainly of interest to the public institutions. It means in turn
that industry will have a fantastic opportunity but also will face a
certain risk to invest on its own in new services, for public
institutions, industry and the citizens.
EC FP or ESA investment will continue to be available for new service
developments, but obviously cannot cover all types of service provision

Without getting too involved with the
actual European Policy and ratification Treaty, what are your thoughts
on which may affect seriously to the European Space budget?

Space actors do not totally depend on the
ratification of the Treaty; like we said before, the Commission, and
other EU institutions by the way, would continue to invest in space
tools and applications. Of course with the new Treaty you could expect
to have a new budget line specific for the space competence: the
European Parliament proposed to reserve some budget in the EU financial
perspectives, to that effect.

How will Earth Observation be affected
by the next Ministerial Council (the meeting of Ministerial-level
representatives from ESA‘s member states)?

To simplify, we have basically two main ESA
programmes in Earth Observation domain. The first one is the Earth
Observation Envelope Programme (EOEP), which goes to the Ministerial
for a third period, with an approximate budget of 1.5 Billion € over
the years 2008-2012. This programme is the backbone of all ESA Earth
Observation development. Without that programme we could not be
prepared to build new satellites; we could not develop the ground
segment; we could not support science or prepare for operational
services. EOEP is financed by ESA Members States. The European
Commission is not contributing to this programme but is very interested
in the supported science and in the potential applications, for example
through the RTD framework programme and the activities of various
institutions and agencies such as JRC, EMSA, EUSC, …. . The second
programme to be approved to the Ministerial is the GMES Space
Component, a programme that is of the order of 2 Billion € and spans
the 2006-2012 period. The Commission and Members States agreed in
principle on this programme but we are facing the fact that the EU
financial perspectives for 2007-2013 are not yet approved. To
circumvent this problem, ESA is proposing a phased programme with a
checkpoint in 2007, when we know for sure the level of budget made
available by the EU and the practical arrangements between EC and ESA
to sue this money. We can also at that time fine-tune the some
specifications for the space capacity to be developed.

GMES will be on the process of
expanding its services beyond Europe. Could you tell us a bit more
about the level for these international relations?Are the GMES targets
not ambitious enough?

There are several points in your question;
the ‘raison d’être’ for GMES was to offer an autonomous and operational
access to Europe to the strategic information in environment and
security. This doesn’t mean that we should develop all the monitoring
capacity by ourselves, but at least that we should be able to have
different guaranteed data sources, and certainly an independent
capacity to interpret these data.

On the other hand, GMES is our ticket to
enter in the cooperation with other space-fairing nations. As such,
part of the GMES monitoring capacity will be a European contribution to

Another answer to your question is that public organisations in Europe
– let’s quote humanitarian, food security, development agencies,
institutions dealing in economic cooperation – will be able to offer
services to overseas partners of Europe. The European industry will
also extent their serving market outside Europe.

We again have an opportunity since Europe
tries to position itself as a environmental champion so we can be well
placed to define reporting standards, for example for national Kyoto
inventories and reporting, sustainable forest certifications, etc.

The very fact that we could through GMES
partly check the national reporting for international environmental
conventions is bringing more confidence in this reporting procedure.

Do you believe that ESA and EU are making sufficient efforts towards the citizen? How can this process be enhanced?

Under the ESA programme “GMES Service
element”, industry and public institutions are developing operational
services for GMES. These services might not be really revolutionary
because we aim here at providing mature and robust services. In
directly ‘servicing’ the citizen, for example, the “Promote” project
warns registered citizens, by “sms”, about the local exposure to poor
air quality. However, in lost of the cases for GMES services, ESA
depends on so-called ‘Legally Mandated Organization’, which are the
officially mandates relay to disseminate higher-level services to third
parties and to the citizens. Let’s think about national meteorological
institutes, as an example, or regional, local environmental agencies.
We need to further convince the professional sector to recognise the
value in their own commercial practices of the GMES products and
services. Media coverage is also important and recent examples about
space-tracked terrain subsidence in Northern Italy and in London, and
major pollution events over the Netherlands have reached national
broadcast audience. Alongside industry, citizens must be convinced too
and lobby the political level!

On EARSC behalf and personally I would like to thank you for your very interesting comments.