European Union Space Programme

The European Union Space Programme was established in 2021[1] by transforming the pre-existing European Space Policy established on 22 May 2007 when a joint and concomitant meeting at the ministerial level of the Council of the European Union and the Council of the European Space Agency adopted a Resolution on the European Space Policy.[2] The policy had been jointly drafted by the European Commission and the Director General of the European Space Agency. This was the first common political framework for space activities established by the European Union (EU).[3]

Currently, each member state pursues their own national space policy, though often co-ordinating through the independent European Space Agency (ESA). Enterprise and Industry Commissioner Günter Verheugen has stated that even though the EU is "a world leader in the technology, it is being put on the defensive by the US and Russia and that it only has about a 10 year technological advantage on China and India, which are racing to catch up."[4][5]

The 2007 communication

A communication outlining the policy was released on 26 April 2007 which set out orientations for:[6] [7]

  • Coordinating more effective civil space programmes between ESA, EU and their respective Member States to ensure value for money and eliminate unnecessary duplication, thus meeting shared European needs.
  • Developing and exploiting European space applications such as GALILEO and GMES (Global Monitoring for the Environment and Security) and satellite communication applications.
  • Preserving EU autonomous access to space.
  • Increasing synergy between defense and civil space programmes and technologies and pursue, in particular, interoperability of civil/military systems.
  • Ensuring that space policy is coherent with, and supports the EU's external relationships.

Components of the programme


The policy expresses support for an operational and autonomous Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) satellite capability before the end of 2008, and for a global navigation satellite system under European civil control, i.e. the Galileo positioning system.[8]


The European Union has already started work on a project to create the Galileo positioning system, to break dependence on the United States GPS system. This is in cooperation with ESA as well as other countries.[8]

Copernicus Programme

Copernicus is a European system for monitoring the Earth and consists of earth observation satellites and in situ sensors. The program provides services in the thematic areas of land, marine, atmosphere, climate change, emergency management, and security[8]

Launch systems

The policy emphasizes the importance for Europe to maintain independent, reliable and cost-effective access to space through European launch systems, without mentioning any specifically by name. The policy statement affirms support for the "EC-ESA Framework Agreement" and the resolution on the evolution of the European launcher sector adopted in 2005.[8]


The space surveillance and tracking support framework detects and warns against possible satellite collisions in space, and monitors space debris re-entering Earth's atmosphere.[8]


The European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service provides navigational assistance to aviation, maritime and land-based users over most of Europe. The system supplements data from GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo by monitoring and making corrections to their positioning data[8]


The policy reaffirms a continuing European commitment to the International Space Station (ISS) and describes ESA participation in future international exploration programmes as being important.[8]

Science and technology

The policy includes the goal of maintaining programmes that give Europe a leading role in selected areas of science. It also calls for the development of technologies that allow European industry to avoid dependency on international suppliers.[8]

Other EU programmes involved in space research

Horizon Europe

The Horizon Europe programme is the source of funding for a variety of projects, such as:

  • Monitoring agricultural sustainability with SIGMA and AGRICAB projects[8]
  • Analyzing the chemical composition of Earth's oceans: OOSS2015[8]
  • Supporting urban planners in the coordination of city resources: DECUMANUS[8]

Why the EU needs a space policy

The European Union stated several reasons its space policy would be beneficial, which include:[8]

  • Meeting key societal challenges: The space sector provides public services to everyone in the EU. It can solve societal challenges such as climate change, sustainable consumption of natural resources, and safety and security.[8]
  • jobs and industrial growth: The EU has over 230,000 jobs in the space sector, it has a worth of over €50 billion to the EU economy[8]
  • Ensuring EU autonomy: By having access to space, Europe can stay competitive in business, in security, and form a stronger presence on the global stage.[8]

Implications of UK leaving the EU

Although the United Kingdom is planning to withdraw its membership in the European Union, it still plans on keeping its membership in the European Space Agency.[9] Since members of the European Space Agency contribute funding based on percentage of GDP, the United Kingdom is one of the larger members of the Space Agency and provides a significant amount of funding.[10] If United Kingdom maintains its membership in the European Space Agency after leaving the European Union, it is expected they will pay an appropriate amount for membership, possibly contributing more than a billion euros to the program's overall funding.[9]

Link between ESA and EU

The ESA is an independent space agency and not under the jurisdiction of the European Union, although they have common goals, share funding, and work together often.[11] The first meeting of the two groups occurred on 22 May 2007 and the agencies have met multiple times since then[11] The most recent meeting occurred in December 2016, The two groups signed a joint statement on their shared vision and commitment to the future of European space travel and reaffirmed their intentions to cooperate in the future[12]

See also