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Ministers promote space as cure for economic ills

EU ministers agreed on the need for further development in the European space sector on Friday (29 May), saying greater research and commercial activity in the area would help lift Europe out of its current recession.

The agreement followed the convening of the sixth space council in Brussels, attended by representatives from the European space agency, the European commission and member states.

“Investment in space research is vital at a time of economic crisis,” said Czech education minister Miroslava Kopicova whose country holds the EU’s rotating six-month presidency until the end of this June.

“Some may consider this a luxury but we must bear in mind the benefits this can have in terms of improvements of quality of life as a whole. Ever euro invested in space policy will be multiplied many times over,” she said.

Part of the agreement centred on the need to push global monitoring for environment and security (GMES) from the research stage into the operational stage.

The technology has been developed to help monitor phenomena such as natural disasters or the mapping of international shipping lanes and harvest distributions.

While Europe’s GALILEO system provides satellite navigation services, GMES will supply information on the state and evolution of the environment once it is up and running.

The Earth observation system will use airborne satellites and a system of sensors on the ground and in the sea to record data.

European industry commissioner Gunter Verheugen presented ministers with a proposal on moving GMES into the operational stage. It must now be ratified by the council and the European parliament under the co-decision procedure.

“This proposal marks a turning point for GMES. It opens the door for the necessary operation of funding for the period between 2011-2013,” he said.

“With this proposal GMES is no longer an initiative with unclear boundaries, it is gradually becoming a programme with its own legal identity, an earth observation programme for the European union.”


The discussions on space came at the tail-end of a two-day ministerial council on improving the competitiveness of European businesses.

On Thursday ministers adopted conclusions on better regulation, highlighting the need to improve the regulatory framework and increase its transparency.

Implementation of the small business act – launched in June last year – was also discussed, as was a European patent system and corresponding single court system to solve patent disputes.

Ministers agreed to wait for a decision by European court of justice on the legality of the single court system before revisiting the topic whose aim is to reduce patenting costs for European businesses.