The failure of Brussels and London to agree on post-Brexit arrangements puts the European space program at risk. The first casualty could be the stewardship of the EU’s Green Deal if a solution is not found by mid-2024.
After the United Kingdom left the European Union in 2020, London wanted to continue participating in the European Union’s Copernicus programme, which monitors and monitors the environmental development of the planet using satellites from space.
However, until a solution was found to implement the Northern Ireland Protocol, the parties could not agree on the modalities for Horizon Europe – and therefore also on the UK’s involvement in Copernicus.
As a result, the UK never paid its €721m contribution to the space program for the period 2021-2027, according to the European Space Agency (ESA) in an internal memo seen by EURACTIV.
Following the signing of the Windsor Agreement in March and the agreement on Northern Ireland, “both the UK and the EU have made it clear that we are open to taking discussions on UK participation in EU programmes, UK government sources said”. EURACTIV.
“However, discussions about how to move forward must take into account the fact that we have lost more than two years of participation in the programmes,” he added.
It remains to be determined what kind of compensation the UK might seek for not participating in the space program over the past two years.
Copernicus is in danger
Meanwhile, the European Space Agency warned that the lack of money “is having a major impact on the Copernicus space component.”
In particular, Copernicus’ funding gap significantly threatens continuity of improvement [Copernicus-]and its ability to fully and timely support the EU Green Deal.”
The future generation of Copernicus satellites, which are expected to contribute to the EU’s goal of climate neutrality by 2050 via so-called Expansion Sentinel missions, will be the first to be affected by the delay in the UK’s lack of financial contribution.
missions includes Six satellites, including the Copernicus Anthropogenic Carbon Dioxide Monitor (CO2M), which aim to enable the European Union to measure carbon dioxide emissions from human activities at all scales.
The ESA document said other Copernicus missions already in orbit and in use are also at risk.
For Sentinel missions currently flying, a budget delay until 2028 would, among other things, “reduce the flexibility and ability of operations to satisfactorily meet program needs and user expectations.”
In the field of disaster management, this would “particularly severely limit the ability to respond to urgent needs related to disaster management,” citing potential problems with “very high-resolution optical and radar data.”
The deadline is to mid-2024
In order to maintain program development, the missing amount must be made available “at a later date, but no later than June 2024,” the ESA statement continues.
If the funding gap is only covered in the next phase of the EU budget (2028-2034), it will lead to “years of disruption to satellite development, thus significantly delaying their availability to support relevant EU policy needs”. in the letter.
She added that this would also “significantly increase the cost of the program”.
In order to avoid putting the entire constellation of satellites at risk, the European Space Agency advises that “the last funding opportunity be identified at the MTR of the Multi-Mission Framework,” as the gap must be filled before mid-2024.
The European Commission has indicated that it will propose a review of the EU’s current multiannual fiscal framework before the summer. However, negotiations between member states regarding contributions can take several months.
Christophe Grodler, MP Christophe Grodler (Regneau, France), who is in charge of the European Parliament’s space programme, told EURACTIV that member states’ approval of the MFF review is “unconfirmed”.
In his view, “the UK should pay the full contribution as it will eventually benefit from satellite services as it pleases.”
“So far the program has not suffered; the budget has gone into the early years,” he said. That way, he added, the UK contribution would simply fill the gap in the later years to 2028.
If that fails, the rapporteur argues, another option would be to use the EU budget or ESA’s own resources.
Meanwhile, the UK has been exploring alternative schemes that could be launched quickly if needed, EURACTIV has learned.
It has also repeatedly reminded the EU that its researchers and companies have been completely excluded from the programs over the past two years.
“Following the Windsor Framework, discussions are still ongoing about the UK’s possible association with Copernicus. This discussion will continue in the context of possible UK participation in some EU programmes, such as Copernicus,” Commission officials told EURACTIV.
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