Jean-Claude Juncker’s European Commission is trying to sideline Britain by launching its own space agency which would leave us out in the cold – and ensure Brussels has control of civil and military satellite systems after Brexit.
But scientists keen to separate themselves from the petty world of politics have stressed they want to usher in a new era of cooperation – and that includes working side-by-side with highly qualified colleagues based in Britain.
Jan Wörner, director-general of the European Space Agency (ESA), which is an inter-governmental organisation which includes the UK as well as Canada and Norway, in addition to all 27 EU member states, believe the commission’s plan will be costly, divisive and unnecessarily bureaucratic.
Writing in his latest blog, Dr Wörner explained: “Europe, this is to say at least the EU, ESA and their respective member states together, must join forces.
“There is no need to develop a new space agency in parallel in Europe, the ramp-up of which would take decades and cost billions and would therefore in itself be a major risk to the programmes it manages.
“We need to streamline, not double administrative layers.
“Therefore, let us think European, I mean really European.
“Astronauts always report that they do not see any national border in Europe.
“In that sense we should work for United Space in Europe and for the other way around, namely for United Europe in Space.
”We are talking about a Europe where EU is part of Europe, ESA is part of Europe, and our respective Member States are part of Europe.”
Proposals published yesterday outline plans whereby the EU would take direct control the civil-military Galileo and Copernicus satellite projects after 2020, relegating the ESA to a technical and advisory capacity.
Britain is lobbying to retain access to Galileo’s Public Regulated Service signal, used for military purposes, on security grounds.
Instead, Eurocrats envisages control of the satellite projects becoming an “EU agency for the space programme” with contracts only issued to EU member states.
A Commission spokesman dismissed Dr Wörner’s concerns as “unfounded”, adding: “The security component is increasingly important.”
However,Bleddyn Bowen, a space policy researcher based Leicester University, said said Brexit appeared to “accelerating the process of dovetailing ESA into EU space policy”.
He added: “This institutional action and its name shows that having a big member [the UK] in the ESA that is able to threaten to complicate the governance of EU-funded space projects seems to have increased the desire of the EU to increase its governing muscle in European space policy.”
Brexit Secretary David Davis has accused accused the Commission of “shooting itself in the foot just to prove that the gun works”.
He said: “We should be able, as trusted allies and friends of Europe to get an agreement that allows sensitive information to be shared.”