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It's time for the EU to capitalise on its space investments

Written by Monika Hohlmeier on 1 June 2016 in Opinion. The EU is in need of a strategic vision that can enable the development of space-based applications and services, argues Monika Hohlmeier.

Space is a strategic key growth sector, where Europe is firmly established in a leadership position. With more than €12bn of investments in the current financial framework both for research and for its flagship programmes, the European Union expects to boost growth and job creation by creating new market opportunities for European businesses and SMEs.

How can Europe capitalise on its investment? How can we bridge the gap between investment in space technology development and its concrete contributions to the lives of people across Europe, the economic and social growth of member states and the competitiveness of our companies?

The answer is a comprehensive European space strategy which takes into account the new challenges and market opportunities that are changing the global space industry. There is an urgent need to set strategic objectives and concrete targets on market share, revenue, job creation and emerging opportunities.

Recent technological innovations have shaken up the competitive landscape, enabling an increasing number of private players – using space-borne data – to develop new products and services. In this respect, Europe is behind the United States, which has anticipated change and has already developed and implemented national strategies to support their space industries. In a time of budgetary constraint, even Russia, China and Japan are providing support.

This has successfully increased their industries’ market share of downstream services and applications, all thanks to massive funding for research and development, a friendly regulatory environment and public procurement support. We lack such a comprehensive framework in Europe.

In addition, the full implementation of Europe’s flagship Galileo and Copernicus programmes is expected to create tremendous downstream market opportunities. However, in a global competitive environment, these are not necessarily going to benefit Europe’s businesses and create jobs.

Unless Europe manages to get a considerable share of the downstream market, such benefits will profit other players and Europe will fail to achieve a positive return on its investment. This is why we have to strengthen our efforts.

With the development of connectivity and the digital economy, Galileo will offer fantastic prospects for European downstream players. New generations of connected vehicles and driverless cars, the Internet of Things and sophisticated apps with indoor positioning all rely on global navigation satellite systems (GNSS).

For Europe to grasp the unexplored opportunities for new GNSS applications and services, policymakers must make efforts to support businesses, including SMEs and the downstream industry.

Copernicus is already providing huge amounts of accurate and easily accessible data, which could be used to improve the management of the environment, understand and mitigate the effects of climate change and safeguard civil security.

Nevertheless, there is a gap between research and availability of information and operational capability. It is striking that the EU, a pioneer in climate change policies, does not yet possess its own emissions monitoring and measuring systems and remains dependant on other space nations.

With the imminent multiannual financial framework mid-term revision in front of us, it is now the right time for the European Parliament to get involved in the priority setting of European space policy. Supported by the sky and space intergroup, the Parliament will be an active player bringing its full support to ensure that Europe benefits from its investments in space.

About the author
Monika Hohlmeier (EPP, DE) is Chair of Parliament’s sky and space intergroup