Galileo Lives to Fly Another Day; Budget Passed

February 25, 2013  - By
Image: GPS World

European Union leaders approved a scaled-down budget in early February, with none of the cuts to the Galileo program that had been widely feared. The project, conducted by the European Space Agency (ESA) under close supervision of the European Commission (EC),  will draw on funding of 6.3 billion euros (about $8.5 billion) from 2014 to 2020. The satellite navigation program held onto its requested revised budget of 6.3 billion euros, even as telecommunications research and broadband deployment projects, including another ESA pet project, the somewhat related Copernicus Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES), underwent severe cuts. Galileo has already spent more than 3 billion euros ($4 billion), three times its original budget, to launch four of an envisioned 30-satellite constellation.

The EU deliberative system requires unanimous approval of budget decisions, so what smaller countries seek for their farmers or fishermen carries practically equal weight to the desire of industrial/aerospace giants like Germany, closely followed by France and the United Kingdom. Negotiation is a delicate matter indeed, and reached an impasse in November 2012; resolution came only after a 24-hour marathon session of talks. The total budget represents the first decrease in the European Union’s history; austerity is the watchword in  a region beset with an ongoing bevy of international debt crises and serious recession in many of the smaller EU countries.

Galileo supporters within the European Commission, the EU’s policy-making arm, continued to maintain that Galileo will “open a whole new world” for business to develop applications, as Antonio Tajani, EC vice president stated recently. The program drew strong support, for once, from powerful backers in the EU administrative capital, Brussels, and among industrial and political interests in key member states: France, Germany, and for an exception Britain, often a proponent of deep cuts.

Negotiators helped Galileo’s chances by placing it in a research group labeled “Competitiveness for Growth and Jobs.” This category actually rose in budget allocation by nearly 40 percent over the last seven-year allotment.

The allocation should cover operational costs for EGNOS and Galileo, the completion of the initial Galileo constellation of 14, and early procurement stages of a full, or second-generation orbiting set of 30.

The program still faces an extremely unlikely date for the establishment of early services by the end of 2014. “Then, the market, as well as the governments of the Member States, will start increasing their interest and promoting further investments,” the ever-optimistic Tajani maintained.

The budget must still secure approval by the European Parliament. Its president, Martin Schulz of Germany has stated, “The further we step away from the Commission’s proposed figures, the more likely the proposal will be rejected. More and more tasks, and less and less money — the inevitable result is budget deficits. The Parliament will not go along with this.”

Parliament’s decision is forecast for the summer months. Parliament’s budget power consists of a direct yes-or-no vote to accept or reject the budget. The body cannot make modifications, and if rejecting would simply send it back to the EU ministers to begin all over again.  The picture is further complicated somewhat by the 20-nation make-up of ESA, whereas the European Union and its executive commission have 27 national members.

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