EU space industry “in danger”
October 8, 2012
“Our friends in the EU commission are telling us today that the telecoms industry is now mature, and that further funding needs are falling,” stated Giuseppe Viriglio, Vice President at trade organisation Eurospace, and a highly vocal critic of many of today’s European space policies, speaking at ESOA’s European Satellite Day in Brussels recently.
“One of our problems as an industry is that people know we are profitable. We know that almost every investment in satellite is profitable. We need, therefore to have a clear policy on equal treatment. The US uses its dual-use space policy to fund its military [satellite] development, and yet puts that benefit to use on the recurring commercial side of the equation. In Europe it is exactly the opposite. In Europe we are funding development on the civil side and then placing the recurring [benefit] to the military. This is fine as long as we can fund the overall investment,” said Viriglio.
“For example, again in the USA they have launched wide-band global military satellites completely funded by the US defence budget,” he argued, yet this led to valuable commercial spin-offs that were directly answering the digital divide suffered by rural and semi-rural consumers. “Boeing received $2 billion to send these satellites into orbit. This is not happening in Europe, and we cannot begin to invest this sort of cash into our activity.”
Viriglio admitted that dual-use investments in satellite hardware was a possibility and deserved further study, but he reserved his strongest criticism for US ITAR regulations: “How can we compete,” he asked, “if we have export limitations. If we cannot sell to half the countries on the planet, and these people need telecommunications despite some of them being considered dangerous. If these problems are not addressed then I am expecting trouble for our industry. The position of our industry today is in tremendous danger.”
Augusto Gonzalez, Head of the European Commission’s DG ENTR’s Space Policy Unit (Enterprise & Industry), said that while many of Viriglio’s points were valid, it was not all bad news. “The good news is that from the EU’s point of view there is a great deal of sympathy for the position the industry is in. But while sympathy is good, giving you satisfaction is another challenge and is more difficult. It is clear this is all about citizens and how citizens can benefit from space-related services.”
He added that the public, by and large, was very aware of the value of satellites, and how they contribute to development and help competition and innovation. “It would be unfair to just focus on Galileo or GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment & Security programme). My perception is that GMES will not be dropped. There is a political argument as to where the money will come from, but I see no signs that GMES that will be dropped. Our space research programme is designed to make [the European industry] more competitive. We are likely to see that investment grow, not diminish. But we also need to listen to the needs of industry as regards space industrial policy. It is a complex sector but we are trying to look at it in a holistic way. The commitment from the Commission to Europe’s space industry is not in doubt.”