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European security discussed at Athens Green Paper consultation

Press Release From: European Union
Posted: Thursday, May 15, 2003

European government and military officials, along with members of industrial, scientific and institutional communities, discussed the Commission's Green Paper on a European Space Policy on 8 and 9 May 2003 in Athens. The meeting, co-hosted by the Greek Presidency , focussed on European defence and security capabilities, shortfalls and initiatives. Defence aspects must be included in Europe's future Space Policy, said participants, just as space will be an integral part of any European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP).

"Recent events in Iraq have highlighted the importance of being able to protect our own interests," said Greek Defence Minister Yiannos Papantoniou. "Europe must commit to a more united approach to defence and we must support closer ties between defence and industry. Space is the fourth domain in defence, multiplying our power at every other level - on land, at sea and in the air."

Space as a strategic asset

Setting the tone for the rest of the meeting, Papantoniou stressed the strategic value of space. "The importance of the information that can be supplied by space technologies, both in peace and in war, has been demonstrated convincingly by the Americans," he said, "but Europe must have its own autonomous capabilities in order to balance against the only remaining superpower, and we need to exert the political will to make it happen. Greece is extremely interested in the new European Space Policy and we hope to see a strong defence component for a strong Europe."

Research Director-General Achilleas Mitsos opened the meeting for the Commission, congratulating Greece for playing a role beyond its size in the Green Paper consultation process and highlighting the need for rapid action on the space and defence issue. "The European Union has a responsibility to ensure the security of present and future generations of European citizens and it is therefore our obligation to invest in this fundamental priority. The question is how much and how coherent that investment will be."

Speaking for the French Defence Ministry's Bureau Espace , Lt General Daniel Gavoty said, "Today, information superiority is an essential requirement for defence and security, and space is the best base for worldwide observation and data collection. Europe must have the capacity to understand global situations. Above all we must work immediately to define common operational standards and financing structures."

The ESDP - breaking old taboos

A development of a common ESDP, giving the Union the ability to decide and act autonomously, mobilising both civil and military forces in crisis management and conflict prevention, is understood to be a major challenge in the process of European integration. But while many now believe that it will one day be achieved, the ESDP cannot be credible without encompassing a clear approach to space-based defence within a strong European Space Policy.

Until only recently, questions of security and defence were largely off limits in the European debate. "We have often chosen to mince our words," explained Demitrios Deniozos, General Secretary of Research and Technology from the Greek Ministry of Development. "To some extent this is understandable. In coming together we have needed to be cautious. We have not wanted to broach difficult and possibly divisive subjects that could harm our relationships." This now seems to be changing. The European Advisory Group on Aerospace, in its 'STAR 21' report, was among the first to call for a satellite-based defence and security capacity on a European scale. In addition, the European Convention working group on defence has recommended the creation of a European Agency for Armament and Strategic Research whose competence would extend to the development of space-based military systems.

Taking the initiative

A number of space-related defence projects are already being undertaken in Europe, both on national and wider scales. The Besoins OpÈrationnels Communs (BOC) initiative is a good example. As Pierre Marie Borgeal of Bureau Espace explained, it combines the capabilities of existing French, German and Italian earth observation satellites to provide rapid and secure information delivery to partner countries. In his opening speech, Defence Minister Papantoniou announced that Greece will soon become a BOC partner, joining France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Belgium.

Meanwhile, the European Union Satellite Centre (EUSC) , located in Torrejon, has, since January 2002, been dedicated to the production and exploitation of information derived primarily from the analysis of earth observation space imagery from a range of European satellite systems. According to EUSC Director Fernando Davara, the Centre is working in support of Union decision-making in the field of Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and is also conducting research and development projects and training activities.

The impending GMES and GALILEO programmes are also likely to play key roles in future spaced-based security and defence, both possessing highly rated dual-use (civil and military) capabilities.

The Greek contribution

Historically, Greece has not been a trailblazer in the space sector, but it has become more active in recent years. As Lt Colonel Alexandros Kolovos, Head of the National Centre for Space Applications at the Greek Ministry of Defence, explained, Greece has been among the loudest voices calling for the inclusion of defence aspects within the European Space Policy.

For his part, Deniozos admitted that, "Our country's production in the aerospace sector has not been impressive, but if we look at advanced electronics production, for example, we have seen a significant increase in recent years, making our country a potentially very important contributor, as a component supplier, to the European space sector." Other participants referred to the high level of untapped brainpower available in Greek universities.

Industry prepared to meet challenge

The industrial community, represented by speakers from Eurospace, Alcatel, Astrium, OHB Systems, Alenia Spazio and Thales, agreed that the European space industry is up to the challenge of meeting Europe's space defence requirements, including the production and operation of advanced military satellites systems.

"What we need," said Eurospace's Bernard Molard, "is a resolution of the outstanding institutional issues and agreement on solutions for integrating our systems." "The European space industry has no major shortfalls," said Guiseppe Aridon of Alenia Spazio. "But we need a clear commitment of support for future projects, in the form of a strong European Space Policy." "The real challenge," said Manfred Kracht of Thales, "is to develop the new technologies to realise our goals in the face of diminishing budgets and increasing competition from across the Atlantic."

Closing session

On the second day of the meeting, Director General Achilleas Mitsos called for the clarification of some basic concepts, "We have spoken of 'peaceful purposes'," he said, "but does that necessarily mean 'non-military'? Is it possible for military action to be peaceful? The term 'security' can also be misleading. We all understand what it means to protect citizens from natural disasters, but what about 'military' security? And finally, we have to distinguish between a European approach and multilateral co-operation, between the Community and the Union, and between 'space projects' and 'space policy'. A real space policy should not be limited to a collection of space projects but should comprise ambitious goals and longer-term perspectives."

The Greek Presidency and the Commission presented concluding remarks, with Lt. Colonel Kolovos noting the success of the event and announcing that the European Union Military Staff (EUMS) and Committee (EUMC) were preparing, in close co-ordination with the Secretariat-General of the European Union Council, a structured reply to the Green Paper.

Green Paper moves forward

The next Green Paper consultation event will take place in London on 20 May 2003 and will focus on 'space applications in the service of European citizens'. For more information, see the Consultation Events page .

Readers can also contribute their views on any subject at any time via the Green Paper Online Forum

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