17 February 2011 by Pelle Neroth
To understand these perspectives, it helps to know a certain classic French vision of what Europe ought to be about.
A lot of state investment in high technology, a single European foreign policy, bureaucratic control to limit the ravages of free market capitalism. European solidarity and European trade preference. It would lead, the vision goes, to lots of 'Airbuses', not just one, that can compete toe to toe with the Americans (and now the Chinese).
In the view of some French this would all have happened long ago had it not been for the absurd two-headed circus horse behaviour that is Britain's contribution to European affairs, with the Brits always pulling firmly in the opposite direction.
Galileo, Europe's version of GPS, was supposed to be a tractor of European space innovation: the EU's technological grand projet.
When conceived in the late 1990s, the state-of-the-art system would comprise 30 satellites and ground control installations, provide thousands of high tech jobs and when up and running in 2010 (they projected), satellite navigation services offering far higher resolution would be offered. Various commercial customers would pay. To the general public it would be free.
From early on, though, the British, followed by the Dutch and Scandinavians, applied the brakes, worrying it might just duplicate GPS, and, true to their free market ideology, insisted that Galileo be funded by private investment complemented by only a small taxpayer's contribution managed by the European commission.
This "retarded" the project, since, as the then French commissioner for transport Jacques Barrot complained, the consortium structure that was imposed yoked together European space companies with very different interests. The ESA remarked that "the financial burden was too heavy for private actors." There were dark mutterings that the British with the help of their American allies wished to sabotage Galileo, with the Brits as trojan horses, inside the project only so they could wreck it.
In 2007, this setup was "corrected" when European taxpayers assumed the central funding role under commission control.
Galileo is now nearly 10 years behind schedule, it has emerged. There will be limited service by 2014 and full completion by 2020. There are huge cost overruns - doubled, to 6bn euros, with a several hundred million euro running annual costs - amid allegations that it will now be technologically obsolete when ready and face far more competitors, including a new Chinese satellite navigation system.
It will never recoup the money spent on it, critics say. British wags call Galileo the "common agricultural policy in space": a wasteful subsidy of sectoral interests.
And a German satellite company executive gave cynics delight a few weeks ago when he said Galileo's true purpose was to give the French nuclear force de frappe operational independence from the US system.
The French, though, might reply that: so what? Sovereignty has no price, and the British are welcome to share it, in the words of Prof Markus Kerber, a Berlin based specialist in Galileo procurement, who distances himself strongly from his fellow German's remarks. He adds that the EU needs a "lighthouse project" as a guiding inspiration now that the euro is wobbly.
Who is to say that the expertise gained from the Galileo project won't be put to good use in a decade's time to develop a newer generation of satellite technology? The British are sometimes too down to earth. Galileo, he says, is completely worthy of EU states' support.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Edited: 22 June 2011 at 03:39 PM by Pelle Neroth
Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 17 February 2011 02:22 AM Space
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